Nonprofit Helps Professionals Restart Their Careers with “Returnships”
Path Forward is a new nonprofit that aims to not only help women re-enter the workforce after a career break but also help companies find and keep top talent.
Hiring staff can be tricky, especially when an applicant has an employment gap in his or her resume.
“Hiring managers are very uncertain about hiring someone who hasn’t worked in a long period of time,” said Tami Forman, executive director of the nonprofit Path Forward.
They tend to think it’s a safer business decision to hire an applicant without the gap, she said, but that makes it very difficult for the 47 percent of adults who, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, have reduced their work hours, taken a significant amount of time off work, quit a job, or turned down a promotion in order to care for a child or another family member.
Matt Blumberg, CEO of software company Return Path, was seeing this trend in action as well. In a guest post on Forbes.com, he wrote: “Female friends and colleagues were leaving their careers for a period of time to focus on their children and finding it difficult to restart their careers. Their attempts were thwarted by bias from recruiters and hiring managers who were reluctant to consider a candidate with a career gap or someone who wanted something less than a full-time role.”
So, he started an experiment at Return Path in 2014, by hosting 16-week “returnships” for professionals interested in relaunching their career. His returnship program also included the possibility of a full-time job offer. And it was successful—so successful, in fact, that he ended up hiring four of the six returnees, three of whom continue to work for the company.
The idea of a return-to-work program started catching fire, with other tech CEOs calling Blumberg for advice on launching their own. “The HR staff at the software company had a day job and couldn’t be running these back-to-work programs [for other companies,] so that was the impetus to launch the nonprofit, Path Forward, in 2016,” Forman said.
This is how it works. Path Forward works with companies, such as PayPal and GoDaddy, to create and run return-to-work programs by providing a playbook on how to do everything from creating a returnship listing, to teaching ways of finding prospects, to talking to current employees about the program. Once a company has identified a returnship class, the nonprofit then coaches hiring managers about how to onboard them, manage feedback during the program, and offboard them—all in the context of this specific program.
Often, women who’ve been out of the workforce for a while lack confidence in their skills and the job market, and that’s something that Path Forward helps to address by carrying out professional development workshops for the women who are hired as returnees.
Since its launch, the nonprofit has seen 50 women through returnships at various companies. Even better: 80 percent of them were hired by the companies where they interned, and 90 percent were hired within three months of completing their returnships. “I think that gives me confidence that this program is going to be exceptionally successful for companies finding people that they want to hire and keep and for women who are looking to restart their careers,” Forman said.
When it comes to long-term goals, Forman said that Path Forward has one.
“We’d like to be able to onboard 1 million women by working with 10,000 companies, so that’s the big, huge goal … but it gives us something to aim toward,” she said.