What Organizations Can Gain From Implementing Returnship Programs

Employers are continuing to look for new ways to find talent. Returnship programs not only help midcareer professionals who took a career break find their way back to fulfilling jobs, but they also give associations access to a larger pool of qualified talent.

Recruiting and retaining talent remain top of mind for employers. According to Gartner, companies should expect their turnover rates to increase by about 4 percent for the foreseeable feature, and a recent ASAE and Avenue M Group text poll reported that the majority of associations saw double-digit turnover rates last year.

Knowing this, organizations should consider an often-untapped pool of applicants—people who are looking to return to the workforce after a career break.

This group has traditionally had a difficult time returning to the workforce because false assumptions are made when it comes to resume gaps and their ability to pick up where they left off. Jennifer Scott, executive vice president of partnerships, giving, and events at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), has found that that the assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Many folks reentering the workforce have spent time updating their skills,” she said. “They are taking certificate courses through open-source learning, and some have gotten their master’s degrees. The talent is there.”

Scott is coleader and cofounder of SWE’s STEM Reentry Task Force, along with iRelaunch CEO and cofounder Carol Fishman Cohen. Over the last eight years, SWE and iRelaunch have helped organizations create re-entry and returnship programs.

Returnships—paid internships for adults returning to the workforce—are a viable way for candidates to re-enter the workplace without starting from entry-level positions.

Here’s a look at why these candidates are an attractive talent pool for employers and how associations can incorporate re-entry programs into their operations.

Well-Rounded Candidates

No matter the reason people chose to leave the workforce, the experiences they gained while away can be invaluable to organizations.

“When I’m hiring, I want someone with different life experiences to contribute to my team,” Scott said. “Returnship programs bring in folks with these different perspectives. They add diversity of thought.”

Since these applicants have prior experience under their belt, they can often better transition to the workforce and the industry.

“These candidates may already know your audience,” Scott said. “For example, a participant may already know what it’s like to work in membership, but you need to bring them up to speed about how to work in your membership department.”

According to Fishman Cohen, employers also benefit from this group because they are re-entering the workforce intentionally.

“They’re enthusiastic about coming into the office because they’ve been away for so long,” she said. “We hear from managers about the energy these employees inject into their work and team because they look forward to being at work every day.”

Supportive Management

If an association does decide to start a re-entry program, it’s important to have a structure and processes in place to ensure it’s successful. For example, since managers play a key role in helping re-entry participants succeed, Fishman Cohen recommends holding weekly meetings with these employees to discuss tasks and timelines.

“Discussing projects in this way can help break down milestones and how to achieve them in a certain amount of time to reach larger goals,” she said. “It can help participants manage expectations.”

Participants should also receive regular feedback. Fishman Cohen suggests managers keep the conversation open and nonjudgmental and encourage employees to ask questions. She also advises associations to provide these employees with mentors or work buddies.

“You want them to be comfortable contributing,” she said. “Mentors or buddies can help create a safe space for these employees to ask questions whether you have a formal or informal support system.”

Like any new employee, if there’s a knowledge gap, associations should provide necessary resources for participants to learn or experience while on the job.

“You’re managing an experienced professional,” Fishman Cohen said. “Treat the returning professional the same way as you would a mid-career professional who didn’t take a career break.”

[Nikola Ilic/ISTOCK]

Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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