Returnships might fill your talent gap

In today’s tight job market, employers must innovate when it comes to filling their positions. A growing number of for-profit businesses — including such big names as Walmart, BP, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase & Co. — have found success with returnship programs. These arrangements also could provide welcome and valuable relief for nonprofits facing hiring challenges.

What’s a returnship?

Many organizations have long relied on internships, and returnships aren’t that different. The main distinction is that, instead of bringing on board almost total novices, you obtain access to experienced individuals.

Returnships target workers who’ve taken a career break. The pool ranges from early retirees, who find they need or want to return to work, to professionals who took time off to travel the globe. Frequently, returnships involve individuals who left the workforce to serve as caregivers for children or other family members. For this reason, the programs aren’t restricted to older workers; they attract people of all ages who’ve taken a break from the workforce. Applicants with a gap in employment can often be overlooked for no other reason — a luxury fewer organizations have these days.

During these short-term programs, “returnees,” like interns, typically are given mentors to offer guidance and support as they are “up-skilled,” and groomed for full-time positions that require skills they don’t yet possess. Returnees also may receive opportunities to interact with organizational leaders.

What are the benefits?

Most obviously, returnships are a new resource for tapping workers with proven, but perhaps not up-to-date, abilities and a strong desire to contribute. It’s also an effective technique for achieving a more inclusive work environment, introducing workers with different perspectives and backgrounds. Moreover, returnships can help overcome the biases hiring managers can harbor against people re-entering the workforce by stereotyping such candidates as out of touch and lacking in essential skills.

But these candidates often boast impressive social media, research, collaborative and organizational skills. They may have leveraged such abilities for years on their children’s school or team projects, as well as other volunteer and community efforts. Returnees have developed hard and soft skills regardless of whether they’ve been compensated financially.

What are the potential risks?

It may be difficult for seasoned professionals to start in lower-level positions where they take direction from managers who are younger or less experienced than they are. While many workplaces can overcome generational differences among their employees, it could be more difficult when returnees view themselves as deserving more respect or deference due to past accomplishments in unrelated jobs.

Some returnees also might struggle with the smaller paychecks they’ll receive in returnships. Ideally, they’ll understand the tradeoff: reduced compensation in the short term for the opportunity to make themselves more employable in the long term. But it’s worth exploring such issues during the interview process.

Remember, though, that returnships are designed for the short term, usually three to six months. If it turns out someone isn’t the right fit, you needn’t offer them a full-time permanent position.

How can you connect?

Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations have recently become available as returnship resources. They connect employers who need experienced employees with would-be workers who’ve significant time gaps on their resumés. These organizations can help you determine if returnships might work well for you and, if so, assist in finding the right people.