The Rise of the “Returnship”

When parents take time away from their careers to raise families, it can be tough to return the office. But proponents of an approach that's gaining popularity in the financial world say it could help bring them back and reduce brain drain from the workforce.

Can the method often used to train employees early in their careers work for those who take a break later in life?

That’s the concept behind the “returnship,” a form of internship designed to attract workers who put their careers on pause to raise a family or for other reasons. It’s catching on in the financial world, in particular. Here’s what it entails:

A way back: The returnship, conceived by financial firm Goldman Sachs in 2008, is intended to draw experienced professionals—often mothers who took an extended break from the workforce—to a company for eight to 12 weeks. The idea is to quickly get these workers past the stigma of a long hiatus and prepare them to move back into full-time positions. Competition for these roles can be stiff: In Goldman Sachs’ case, more than 1,000 people applied for the 2013 returnship program, but just 19 were accepted, according to Crain’s New York Business.

The benefits for workers: In a piece for The Guardian, Women Returners cofounder Julianne Miles said the program works best as a transition step, often allowing participants to serve in a consultant capacity for a short-term initiative. “Returners work on CV-worthy projects which draw on their existing skills and experiences, and they are paid accordingly,” Miles wrote. “They can rebuild their professional confidence and skills in a supportive peer environment, receiving training, mentoring, and access to corporate networks. They also get to practically test out the role and assess whether they want to return to a demanding corporate job.”

The benefits for employers: For the financial industry, which struggles to retain female employees over long periods, the returnship is seen as a way to boost diversity in terms of both age and gender. “In the senior ranks, the retention of females has not been as strong,” Lisa Monaco, Credit Suisse’s vice president and global program manager for internal mobility, told Crain’s. “There is a keen industry focus on diversity to attract experienced women back into the workplace and an untapped talent pool to meet that opportunity.”

Are there downsides? The answer depends on whom you ask. In an October piece on CNBC, the career-development firm Mom Corps suggested that such programs should be a last choice, in part because the term “returnship” could carry a negative connotation for experienced professionals. “The returnship is most likely a catchy moniker that doesn’t illustrate what the majority of the workforce is looking for,” Mom Corps Founder and CEO Allison O’Kelly told the news network. She recommended that workers ask their employer if the role could be described as a contract position on their resume. Others who spoke with the network suggested that the wildly varying pay for this type of program is an issue, especially since those returning to the workforce likely have more experience than interns fresh out of college.

Could the returnship approach be an innovative way for your organization to bring in seasoned talent? Leave your take in the comments.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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