Rise of the Returnship

Apr 10, 2015


By Lyndsey Hall

Would you rather employ someone with fewer skills and qualifications, but more recent experience; or a highly-educated mother who is returning to work after a long break to focus on her family?

According to a survey of businesses in the US, employers are more inclined to hire someone with no relevant skills than someone who is long-term unemployed. ‘Long term’ is considered to be anything longer than six months, so what does this mean for women who choose to take a break from the 9 to 5 to raise their children?

The stigma attached to long-term joblessness centres around the perception that these individuals are unemployable, or defective in some way; it assumes that they have been out of work due to laziness, low self-confidence, or a lack of ambition or flexibility. Employers often presume that the long career gap will also have resulted in a deterioration of skills; but this is not always the case. If we consider women who have chosen to become stay-at-home mothers for a period, or even people who have spent time as full time carers for a loved one; these tasks bring their own challenges, which can help develop essential skills such as time management, self-motivation, and multi-tasking.

With the speed of technological advancement nowadays, age is also a factor. Employers could perceive the older generation as technologically lacking, and possibly slow to learn; leaving them favouring the younger generation who have grown up with today’s technology. This leaves those wishing to return to the workforce at a later stage in a very difficult position; with no job prospects and no way to develop the new skills they require.

In light of this, a new trend has emerged for Returning Professional Internships, or ‘returnships’. Starting in the UK in the investment banking sector in 2014, the term is gradually picking up speed and spreading to other industries, with companies like Vodafone running their own similar programme to encourage returners back into the workforce.

The programmes provide paid, short-term employment contracts, and allow returners to take on real projects within the business, based on their prior experience and skills. This allows the returner to rebuild their confidence, develop new skills, and reintegrate into a work environment that is potentially very different from the one they left years ago. At the same time, the business benefits from the attention and abilities of a very dedicated potential employee, allowing them to assess the returner’s suitability for a permanent role at the end of the programme.

Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley both took on the majority of participants in their returnship schemes last year, and most of those were given senior roles. Both companies are also repeating their programmes in 2015, suggesting that the schemes were a success.

The term ‘Returnship’ is trademarked by Goldman Sachs, who have been running their returnship programme in the US since 2008. The scheme is not just open to women; men who have taken a career break or spent time as stay-at-home dads are also welcome to apply. It can even be used to help returners transition into a new area, as well as updating their skills in the industry in which they previously worked.

For more information about upcoming Returnship Programmes, visit Women Returners for Business.

What are your thoughts on this new, emerging trend? Will it help encourage high quality employees back into the workforce after a career break, or is it just a gimmick? We’d love to hear from you.

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