The Rise of Returnships
Return-to-work internships that attract high-caliber talent who have been out of the paid workforce for a period of time are becoming more and more common. In 2016, PayPal launched its Recharge Program, a twenty-week paid internship. Their inaugural class included eight women and one man who stepped away from the paid workforce from two to twenty years. The participants are treated like full-time employees starting their first day with company-issued laptops, desks, and badges. At the end of the Recharge return-to-work internship, PayPal expects to offer each trainee a full-time job.
“It’s such an obvious recruiting tool,” said Thao Smith, director of the Recharge Program “We get smart, eager, experienced employees and they get the training they need to get up to speed and be able to re-ignite their careers.”
PayPal is part of a consortium of tech companies who are piloting mid-career internship programs as part of Path Forward, a nonprofit spin-off of Return Path, a New York-based software company. They had launched their own return-to-work program in 2015 to such great success they wanted other companies to get involved. Path Forward now has five technology companies piloting programs with ten to fifteen interns each. The companies don’t guarantee employment, but they anticipate hiring around 80 percent of the cohort.
“We talk about wanting to solve the pipeline problem for women in tech,” said Tami Forman, executive director of Path Forward. “What better way to solve it than to find talented employees who, with just a little bit of help, can hit the deck running.”
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In 2016, GTB broke new ground in the advertising industry by launching a formal ten-week paid “returnship” program for women who have cycled out of the workforce for more than two years. The goal, according to Traci Armstrong, senior vice president, global director of talent acquisition, at GTB, is “to eliminate the negative consequences of a resume gap by providing an on-ramp back into the ad world.”223
These programs have been alive and well in the financial services industry for the past few years, used by forward-thinking companies as a means of attracting great talent. Consider the experience of Judith Galvin Casey. She started her career at Arthur Andersen and then went on to get an MBA from Duke University. She joined JPMorgan Chase as an associate after business school and worked her way up to vice president in the corporate finance department. She got recruited by a small capital bond insurer, where she spent six years managing $4 billion in assets as vice president of risk management. Then, like so many high-potential women, Judy paused to focus on her family.
Eleven years later, she knew it was time to go back to the paid workforce. But Judy had no idea how she was going to get “back on track.” Lucky for her, investment banking firm Morgan Stanley had just launched its return-to-work paid internship specifically targeted to women who had paused their careers and who were ready to relaunch.
“I was lucky to have joined their inaugural class in 2014,” Judy told me. “We spent twelve weeks in an intensive training program building our skills and getting reacquainted with the work world. It was a dream come true.” Today, Judy is a vice president in wealth management at the firm and believes her “second” career is even more promising than her first.
“I don’t have the distractions of young children and, as a result, feel much more engaged and able to perform at my peak,” she said.
As more and more companies across industries look to hire highly qualified women to fill their leaky pipeline of female talent, we are likely to see return-to-work internships as ubiquitous as internships for college students. As Tami Forman told me, it is a great way for both company and potential employee to “try and buy” before a full commitment is required.
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