It’s a common story these days: companies can’t find the qualified candidates they need, despite the high unemployment rate. But some employers are solving this dilemma through what are known as returnship programs.
Returnships, or return-to-work programs, are commonly described as internship programs for older professionals who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time. In many cases, they are designed to help these individuals refresh their skill sets, learn new technologies and ease back into the corporate world.
“This is such a great program to invest in,” says Beverly Flaxington, co-founder of The Collaborative, a Massachusetts-based business development consulting firm, who believes returnship programs create a huge opportunity for employers to find the skilled workers they need to fill crucial roles.
“There are a tremendous amount of talented individuals out in the market who may have been out of the day-to-day working environment for a while, but that doesn’t diminish fact they have fundamental skills to do the job or be successful,” Flaxington says.
While Goldman Sachs may have started the trend (the company coined the phrase in 2008), returnship programs are growing increasingly common among companies of all sizes and industries, and have proven to be a win-win for both employers and participants. For individual workers, they provide the chance to prove themselves as valuable, productive employees. Companies benefit from the opportunity to take on workers with years of professional experience behind them and “test-drive” them before hiring them full-time.
Getting the Most Out of a Returnship: Five Tips
For companies who want to benefit from returnship programs at their own organizations, Flaxington provides the following advice:
- Get out of your own way: Employers need to let go of preconceived notions about people who have been out of the workforce, Flaxington says: “You can’t make a blanket statement like, ‘Everyone who’s been out of workforce is out of touch with new technology.’ Some of the most tech-savvy people are in their 60’s.” For this reason, employers need to…
- Assess and customize to the individual worker: Flaxington recommends creating individual assessments to understand which areas a particular worker may need the most training and guidance. “Employers need to give the person a chance to say ‘here’s where I need help’ and create a process that’s a little more targeted to the individual’s needs, giving them an opportunity to develop skills in certain areas – and providing them training where they need it.”
- Understand where there’s going to be a learning curve: These workers have the skills they need to succeed, but they might be a bit “rusty” when it comes to actually being in a corporate environment. And that rustiness can take a toll on one’s confidence. One way to combat this challenge, however, is to assign workers a mentor who can guide them as to what it takes to succeed at the organization. “That’s going to go a long way in their ability to get up to speed quickly and contribute to their full potential.” Another solution might be to…
- Reevaluate the classic onboarding process: Go beyond simply showing these workers the classic organizational structure and give them more intelligence about how the company works from a cultural standpoint. “The onboarding process is where employers have a chance to be more proactive and more conscious about giving them the lay of the land and helping them navigate the workforce culture,” Flaxington says. Finally…
- Be willing to take a risk: Employers may be wary of candidates who have been out of the workforce for a significant time period, but they would be doing themselves a disservice by counting this group out entirely. “These individuals provide a pool of resources that companies aren’t taking advantage of,” Flaxington says. “Companies tend to make the mistake of looking at the job they’re trying to fill and trying to match the skill sets clearly. These candidates may not be a perfect match on paper, but they probably have the work style, cultural fit and soft skills you’re looking for.”
Is a returnship something you would consider providing at your own organization?