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How “returnships” are helping moms and caregivers get back into the workforce

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Patricia Bailey - published on 06/18/18

These re-entry programs may be just what you need to get back in the career game once again.

What’s a returnship? It’s a return-to-work internship program designed for professional women who took years off to raise their children or care for loved ones. Companies recognize that these women have tremendous potential, but their break from the professional working world – and possibly out-of-date skill set and references — may not be helping them in the job-seeking process.

So a returnship is essentially a structured on-ramp that offers industry-specific training, coaching, mentoring, and networking opportunities to help women get back in the game. Returnship programs vary in length from several weeks to as long as eight months, but they are usually paid.

For companies and for women, it’s a win-win. The returnship “class” offers companies a vetted talent pool that they can dip into for hiring, once the training is complete. And for moms looking to get back into the game, it makes that steep re-learning curve much easier to navigate.

Companies offering returnships

Some large companies –- about 160, to date -– offer their own returnship programs.

Goldman Sachs pioneered the concept of a “returnship” in 2008; J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, and Morgan Stanley also followed suit.

In the tech field, IBM launched a 12-week reentry program in 2016, focused particularly on women who had been out of the workplace for as long as 20 years. LinkedIn offers “REACH,” a 6-month paid internship for programming and coding positions in the LinkedIn engineering team.

In the consulting field, Deloitte has its own 11-week returnship program, called the “Encore Program,” which is like an immersion bootcamp with on-the-job, client-facing training. The program was a tremendous success: its initial goal was to hire 50 percent of its returnship participants, and it ended up hiring almost 90 percent of them.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers has a program called “Full Circle” and Ford has a six-month paid “Re-Entry Program” in Michigan for people who have taken a career break of “at least two years.” Johnson & Johnson likewise has a 5-month paid reentry internship for engineering professionals who have taken at least a three-year break. Northrop Grumman has “iReturn,” a 12-week paid internship for returning workers.

A full selection of companies offering returnships is available on the iRelaunch website, an excellent resource specifically geared toward helping people return to the workforce after many years away.

Organizations that facilitate returnships

While some companies are big enough to host their own returnships, others choose to partner with companies that serve multiple clients. One such company is Path Forward, which is particularly geared toward the Bay Area tech industry.

Path Forward’s past clients include GoDaddy, Coursera, Instacart, Zendesk, Demandbase, Cloudflare, PayPal, Verisk Analytics, AppNexus, Medallia, Intacct, Volta, Quantcast, and Cloudera.

If you only recognized PayPal from that list, don’t worry. The point is that these are cutting-edge tech companies that are looking for top talent -– and finding it in women who may have been worried just months before that their “mommy brain” had completely taken over their engineering or coding brain.

Path Forward’s executive director, Tami Forman, said that “80 percent of graduates were retained by the company where they interned, and 90 percent were employed within a few months of the program’s end.”

Another company that helps moms and caregivers get back into the game is reacHIRE, which partners with Fortune 500 companies and runs a “PowerUp” career re-entry program.

The founder and CEO of ReacHIRE, Addie Swartz, said she herself had to take a year off from work in the aftermath of a serious car accident, and during that time she got to know other women who were also on a career break. She realized that those women had tremendous untapped talent, but were held back by outdated skills and references, and often by eroded self-confidence, “despite their significant past career achievements.” All they needed was an on-ramp to help them over those obstacles and they would be on their way.

Yet another company that helps returning professionals – especially moms – is ReBoot Accel, described as a “career accelerator for women.”  It offers an online “Kickstart” program offering training and a closed Facebook community of likeminded women. There are also in-person workshops ranging in length from two days to eight weeks.

Finally, the Onramp Fellowship is specifically geared toward women looking to reenter the legal and financial services industry. It partners with 27 organizations and places women in 6- and 12-month paid internships to bring them up to speed and get connected after time away.

You can do this!

If you are thinking about returning to work after 10 or even 20 years away, you might be tempted to think it’s impossible. Who would hire me after I’ve been gone for so long? I’m completely outdated. But stop right there. First of all, the experience you acquired as a mother — or as a caregiver — is not irrelevant. We all know that motherhood is the most demanding bootcamp on the planet. (Move over, Navy SEALs!) Women who are mothers acquire maturity, abilities, and perspective they could only have dreamed of in their 20s. These qualities are valuable and relevant in the workplace.

Second, women who had careers and then took time off are not starting from zero. If you already had some professional experience as a lawyer, or an accountant, a marketer or an engineer, you’ll be able to reactivate that knowledge and those skills. You may need a bit of time to get back into the groove and catch up with the latest developments in your industry, but it’s possible.

Returnships and reentry programs may be just the ticket you need to get back into the game. The key is to believe in yourself enough to give it a try!


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