Even just a few decades ago, when one chose a career path, that was usually their career until retirement. Our grandparents, and even some of our parents, often worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years before retiring and collecting a pension.Those days are gone, though. Today, few people stay with the same company, or even in the same career field, for their entire working life. No to mention, many people experience career breaks, due to personal circumstances, the choice to raise a family, or due to downsizing or job loss. Some people opt to leave the workforce permanently, but most people want to go back to work eventually.
However, that is often easier said than done. The longer you are away from the working world the more difficult it is to find a new job and restart your career. Some people try to overcome the obstacles associated with going back to work by earning an advanced degree, volunteering, or working part time or consulting to keep their resumes current. In some cases, this is effective; if you can show that you’ve kept your skills fresh and current, you’ll have an easier time convincing an employer that you are able to come back to work after an absence.
There is another option, as well. Some larger organizations, recognizing the talent that experienced workers can bring to the table even after a hiatus, have developed programs designed to ease the transition back to work. Called “returnships,” these programs allow older workers to work for several months, gaining the skills they need to successfully transition back into the working world after an absence.
Taking the Fear Out of a Career Break
The concept of a returnship was pioneered by investment giant Goldman Sachs back in 2008, who noticed that that many women were struggling to return to the workforce after taking a break to raise their families. The program was designed to provide an environment for them to not only put their existing skills to work and brush up on some that may be a bit rusty after some time away, but also to give them the opportunity to “test the waters” of returning to corporate life.
Unlike a typical internship, in which students are closely supervised, and often complete low-level tasks or simply observe professionals in action, returnships are closer to actual jobs. Workers are given actual projects to work on that allow them to use their existing skills and build confidence — and in most cases, earn a salary for the duration of the experience. Most returnships last three to six months, allowing workers to gain the confidence they need in addition to their skills to get back into the workforce on a permanent basis. However, while the work at a returnship is more challenging, it does share some similarities with internships. Most programs are highly competitive, only accepting a small number of applicants for each session, and require participants to complete training, orientation, and mentorship requirements.
The Pros and Cons of Returnships
The benefits of returnships are clear: For someone who has been “out of the game” for any period, it’s a perfect opportunity to ease back into the corporate world and identify any gaps in knowledge and skills and fill them before looking for full-time work. For someone who is on the fence about going back to work, a returnship offers a (slightly) lower pressure environment for testing the waters. In addition, since some returnships are paid positions, there are some significant financial benefits to them — not to mention, many successful returnees either land full time work with the company, or at the very least, have an excellent reference for their ongoing job search.
There are some critics of returnships, though. Some believe that returnships are nothing more than a way for companies to retain skilled workers without having to pay high salaries or provide benefits. In the case of returnships that do pay participants, critics speculate that the programs are nothing more than temporary or contract positions that don’t offer any real value to participants. Some also question whether returnships can actually backfire on participants, by allowing them to take their focus off looking for a job for several months; once their returnship ends, there’s a chance that you could be back in the unemployment line, with only a slight advantage over other applicants.
Still, despite the criticisms, returnships are growing in popularity. They are best suited for those with a clear idea of what they want from their career, and see the program as a step for achieving their goals, and not the goal itself. With that mindset, you can refresh your skills, get up-to-date, and back on track to a fulfilling and well-paying career of your own.