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Diving Back In
CTDO Magazine

Diving Back In

Friday, September 14, 2018

After a hiatus, midcareer professionals may consider returnships as a way to re—enter the workforce.

Does it seem like your company always needs to fill entry—level skilled positions? If so, you may want to consider launching a returnship program that taps midcareer professionals who have taken a brief hiatus from their careers to care for dependents.


"A returnship is like an internship for experienced workers looking to re—enter the workforce," says Amy Elisa Jackson, editorial director for the recruiting site Glassdoor. "Whether you have taken a step away from professional life to care for a parent or raise a child, a returnship is a unique opportunity to learn new skills, sharpen others, and transform your career."

The benefit for companies is that return—to—work programs create a pipeline of talent that already understands workplace culture and expectations but may need training on current tech or compliance requirements. Meanwhile, for workers, these types of programs create a path to re—enter the workforce and update their skills.

Not surprisingly, women are the likely participants of return—to—work programs. In a 2015 survey from Pew Research, nearly 40 percent of women with children reported taking a significant amount of time off work, and 27 percent reported quitting their jobs for responsibilities at home. For these women, rejoining the workforce is wrought with obstacles that returnships can help them overcome. Totaljobs, a U.K.—based firm, recently conducted a study with 2,600 jobseekers and nearly 100 employers that revealed that 72 percent of employees would consider a returnship if they were to take a career break.

Spanning industries

Returnships aren't a new idea. In fact, a decade ago, Goldman Sachs coined—and trademarked—the term when the investment bank started a 10—week program for women and men with career gaps who were looking to get back to full—time work. Returnships quickly branched out in the banking sector, with Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan offering work re—entry programs.

In recent years, the idea has been gaining momentum in tech and healthcare industries. For example, the Cedars—Sinai Medical Center Physician Reentry Program provides hospital credentialing committees with a convenient pathway to help reinstate physicians. Similarly, Cloudflare's Path Forward return—to—work program is a 16—week paid internship that fills positions in solutions engineering and marketing.

Wanda Chiu, a software engineer with Cloudflare, explains in a company blog post that she took time off initially to care for her ailing mother and later decided to start a family. Fifteen years later, the returnship program helped her comfortably transition back into the workforce.

"I wasn't sure I was qualified to apply for software engineering positions because the industry has adapted so much and there are so many new tools," she says. "Cloudflare was willing to give me the time to pick up the new skills I needed to succeed in this software engineering role and contribute to the team."

Returnships are even making it to the retail market. Walmart's technology division—Walmart Labs—is partnering with nonprofit Path Forward to create return—to—work opportunities in its offices in San Bruno and Sunnyvale, California. The four—month program is open to women and men who have at least five years of professional experience and have been out of the workforce for at least two years. For the initial cohort, the program will include a variety of roles in software engineering and product management and offer networking opportunities, training, and other professional development workshops. Upon completion, candidates will be considered for full—time openings at the company.

"Helping people restart their careers after caregiving is great for them and their families, great for the economy, and a great opportunity for Walmart to tap highly skilled, educated, and motivated associates," Bobbie Grafeld, vice president of people at Walmart Labs, said in a written statement.


Cloudera, GitHub, and Nutanixt are a few other new companies partnering with Path Forward to create or expand return—to—work programs this fall. The company has worked with more than 30 companies—such as Apple, NBCUniversal, PayPal, Verizon, Oracle, AppNexus, Stripe, and LendingClub—to develop returnships, with opportunities spanning a wide range of functions, including hardware and software engineering, marketing, product management, professional services, and HR. To date, nearly 180 people (predominantly women) have completed Path Forward programs, and 80 percent of those individuals were offered ongoing employment at the company where they interned.

"We are on a mission to empower people to restart their careers after a pause for caregiving," says Tami Forman, Path Forward's executive director. "By working with large corporate employers like Walmart, we can create more opportunities and also shine a light on the many benefits and experiences former caregivers bring with them to the workforce."

Effort required

Developing a work re—entry program that benefits employers and employees alike isn't easy. Allison Kahn, labor and employment attorney at Carlton Fields, warns against playing into stereotypes. "Employers should be careful not to target programs specifically to women as that might be considered discriminatory," she notes, advising organizations to target professionals rather than a specific group to limit risk.

Carol Fishman Cohen is co—founder and CEO of iRelaunch, which works directly with 40 blue chip companies to develop returnship programs. She advises employers to keep the group small "to ensure high—quality, high—touch support" and model the program after existing internship programs. Also, companies should be sure to emphasize learning and development. They may need to partner with an academic program to offer "short—term skill—building programs for the return—to—work demographic," adds Cohen.

The real key to success, according to Forman, is for re—entry programs to not only provide training but have participants perform real work. She tells The Atlantic that a meaningful returnship "needs to produce mission—critical work." That will help employees fill essential resume gaps while the company fills significant productivity gaps.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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