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Returnships are a relatively new concept that emerged on the professional working scene around 2008. Returnships are essentially internship programs intended to help adults who have taken time away from the labor force (and thus career development) return to the workforce in paid positions. These programs are growing in popularity with at least 200 large organizations offering some kind of returnship program at the time of this article's writing.
For your benefit, we are going to analyze the benefits and potential downsides of the various returnship programs in today's labor marketplace. In addition, we will take a careful look at alternatives to returnships that may prove to be even more beneficial to job seekers. Let's begin.
The term "returnship" was coined by Goldman Sachs circa 2008. The first Goldman program was advertised as a "way to bring high potential employees whose skill may need a little updating, back into the company fold. " Since then, the Goldman program and progams similar to it have actively sought to find, retrain, and test stellar professionals who can fill the organization's labor gaps.
Returnships are being adopted and maintained by organizations for a number of reasons. However, chief among them is the realization that many high-performing, focused and dedicated individuals do not follow the typical career path. For example, women who wish to spend time care-taking and nurturing their young children prior to entering their school years often have difficulty re-entering the workforce. Other returnship enrollees often include (but are not limited to):
- Retired military servicemen
- Those leaving the workforce for temporary health issues
- Former entrepreneurs who left careers to start an enterprise
- Older Americans who have taken a break from the workforce to support their family
Additionally, organizations are realizing that in an ever-more-complicated labor market; returnships offer a number of distinct advantages over other recruitment mechanisms. Namely, employers gain:
- access to a diverse and very talented pool of applicants.
- an opportunity to fill very specific job shortages.
- an opportunity to cheaply and efficiently assess a candidate's suitability for long-term employment.
Potential Benefits of Returnships
Experienced job seekers who are considering returnships have much to consider. While they may want to rejoin the workforce, many are not sure if enrolling in a returnship is the best way to do it. So we will first cover the many potential benefits of returnships and how a job seeker can take advantage of them.
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1. It is a great opportunity to update your skills and add new ones.
One of the great factors that distinguish returnships from regular internships is the fact that many returnships presume that candidates already have most of the skills necessary for a full-time position. Therefore, returnships often focus on updating skills that the candidate has not used or advising the candidate on how technology may have changed the nature of the job. Even if the returnship does not end up in an official job offer; the skill update will be invaluable for future job applications.
2. You can expand your career network and contacts.
In any job search, having a group of similar professionals from whom you can get and give feedback is invaluable. The fact that you will be with other professionals who are in a similar situation (essentially playing catch up); allows you to freely explore questions and concerns that are unique to your group.
3. You can thoroughly explore all your options.
In some cases, you may have been out of the workplace so long that your previous position no longer exists; or it may have changed in some radical way. Well, good news because a returnship can still be a great resource. Through the returnship, you can meet people who have gone through the same skill transitions that you have. Better yet, some companies allow returnship candidates to gain exposure to multiple departments of an organization to figure out where they may fit best.
Potential Downsides of Returnships
Returnships are not all roses and sunshine. Despite their often good intentions, the programs have been criticized on a number of points. Let round out our analysis of returnships by showing and explaining potential negatives:
1. You may not get the job.
Just as with an internship, there is no absolute guarantee that you will get a job at the end of the returnship period. The problem with this is that while internships are generally taken by young people who do not have a myriad of obligations or duties (they are just trying to get their foot in the door), returnships are chiefly accepted by older adults with serious obligations (e.g., children, mortgages, elder care). With such busy lives, older adults may feel that returnships (with no guarantee of employment) are a waste of time and may take time away from the actual job search. In some cases this may be true. Returnships typically last a few weeks or months. Really it is up to the individual to decide whether the returnship is worth their time and effort.
2. Returnship compensation varies (widely).
While some returnship programs include very generous pay (i.e. Goldman Sachs, Deloitte); others either pay a lot less, and a few actually pay nothing at all. If you are an unemployed adult who cannot go two to three months without full compensation, then a low wage returnship may not be your best option.
3. Returnships are still largely limited to large tech, finance, and consulting companies.
As of the writing of this article, there were about 200 large companies that offer some kind of returnship program. However, the programs are still largely the mainstay of finance, consulting, and (increasingly) tech firms. If you work outside of these fields, a returnship opportunity may be harder to find.
Alternatives to Returnships
If you feel that the downsides of returnships prohibit you from participating in one, don't fret. There are probably many other practical alternatives. Consider some of these:
- Local Community Colleges: Part-time or night classes at community colleges often serve those looking to reenter the job market by updating their skills and/or providing adequate certifications.
- Your Alma Mater: Your Alma Mater can still be a great resource long after you left its lofty doors. Many colleges host events or workshops where out-of-work alumni can connect with alumni employed at various firms. The connections made at these events may prove invaluable in your job search.
- A Temp Agency: Some have argued online that joining a temp agency can deliver almost all of the benefits of a returnship without the same kind of time commitment and constraints. And this argument may hold some weight. Temp agencies can help you explore the modern working environment in a field of your choosing (assuming your skills match up). Moreover, unlike a returnship, if you are dissatisfied with the working relationship or the compensation, leaving your temp job does not carry the same professional stigma as leaving a returnship program.
Well-Known Returnship Programs
- Credit Suisse Real Returns Program
- Goldman Sachs Returnship Program
- iRelaunch, a nonprofit creating, organizing, and promoting career relaunch opportunities across the U.S.
- JP Morgan Chase ReEntry Program
- IBM Tech Re-Entry Program
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.