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Is a returnship program right for your organization?

When looking at broad groups of employment candidates, many organizations tend to focus on young people just entering the workforce and established workers who are looking to change jobs.

But don’t forget that there are other groups as well. One of them comprises people who wish to return to work after being out of the traditional workforce for a long time (generally more than a year). To help attract these individuals and ease their transitions back into employment, some employers have established “returnship” programs.

A bridge back

As the name implies, returnships are much like internships. Except, instead of helping someone enter the workforce, returnships enable workers to relaunch their careers without having to start all over. Another difference is that returnships are usually paid arrangements that more often, though not always, result in a bona fide job offer.

For workers, returnships are a bridge back to employment rather than a ladder. Most people who once worked in a midlevel or higher position would no doubt feel uncomfortable, if not downright miserable, starting at the bottom of the organizational chart again. Returnships offer them the opportunity to resharpen both their professional expertise and interpersonal skills in the workplace.

In addition, returnships offer those with notable employment gaps on their resumes to counter those lengthy periods of un- or underemployment with a clearly marked accomplishment leading them back into the workforce.

Benefits for employers

There are also benefits for employers offering a returnship program, including:

Access to an often-overlooked portion of the labor pool. As mentioned, many organizations may do little to nothing to reach out to those who want to come back to work but are hesitant to do so. In fact, it’s often noted that unemployment statistics generally account for only those actively seeking jobs, not those who’ve given up looking for the time being.

Many people in this population are already educated, possess professional skills and experience, and know how to problem-solve. They may need much less training to get up and running — particularly if you implement a robust, well-designed program.

An enhancement to your “employer brand.” Your employer brand is essentially your reputation in the job market as a hiring entity. It’s largely based on word of mouth — that is, how job candidates, as well as current and former employees, rate and describe their experiences with your organization. From this perspective, a returnship program can serve as an additional positive feature about you that enhances fundamentals such as competitive compensation and benefits.

Potentially a boost to diversity. One interesting aspect of returnship programs is that they may increase diversity. For example, app-based food delivery service Grubhub launched a returnship program in 2021. The company has disclosed that the program has improved gender and age diversity. Another even larger employer — PepsiCo Beverages — expanded its returnship program this year, in part because of how successful it’s been in attracting women who have taken time off as caregivers.

An idea to consider

To be clear, a returnship program may not be a good fit for every employer. An initiative of this sort will call for a considerable investment of resources in design, implementation and administration. But if you’re having a hard time finding job candidates with specific skill sets, or if you want to cast as wide a net as possible, a returnship program may be worth considering. We can help you identify and develop projections for the costs involved.

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