Walmart, GM Among Companies Using ‘Returnships’ for Workers

By Kristen Ricaurte Knebel

Work gaps on resumes can raise red flags for hiring managers and make applicants insecure about their prospects for landing a job. Some companies want to change that by offering “returnship” programs to attract experienced talent and transition them back into the workplace.

General Motors Corp ., Booz Allen Hamilton , Goldman Sachs , Dow Jones, and Deloitte are among companies offering these programs that are aimed at helping workers—mostly women—sharpen their skills and ease them back into the working world. Walmart last month became the latest company to announce a returnship program—this one for its tech division, Walmart Labs—specifically targeting women returning to the workforce. The first group of 20 to 30 returners will begin a four-month returnship in September, according to Walmart. The company is targeting people who have five years or more work experience who want to come back to work. Goldman Sachs debuted its returnship program in 2008.

A returnship is similar to an internship for the experienced worker. They’re paid programs for workers who have left the workforce for a period of time—typically two years or more—and are hoping to jump-start their careers. Companies desperate for top talent want to tap into this segment of workers who had been in the workplace but took a break. Returnships also can help employers that want to increase age and gender diversity, especially in such areas as finance and technology that tend to skew male. Returnships also are popping up in the pharmaceutical and consumer goods industries.

“Returnships are a great way for people who haven’t been in an office setting to sharpen their skills, and it’s a good way for us to bring in new talent with a fresh perspective,” Jessica Mara, publicist at Dow Jones, told Bloomberg Law. Dow Jones launched its returnship program in fall 2017 and is looking to expand it this year, she said.

The programs help attract workers who may not feel confident they’ll be welcomed back to work because of gaps in their resume, said Courtney Jones, founder and president of the MomSource Network, a company that helps connect companies and women who want to return to the workforce.

“There are more individuals who are actively sitting on the bench, and women who would like to return to work are where the majority of returners are,” Jones said. “Returnship programs encourage them to come back faster and be more successful.”

Companies offering returnships typically pay the average salary for a midcareer occupation in the industry, and the salary is prorated for the length of the program, Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder iRelaunch, told Bloomberg Law. In the engineering sector, for example, the average midcareer job pays $77,182, according to Glassdoor. Beyond salaries, companies also must pay administrative costs to run the program or contract with a company like iRelaunch to run it.

A survey of 22 companies from Mercer found that 18 percent offer a returnship program and 23 percent are considering offering one. An additional 18 percent of those companies decided to offer returnship programs but haven’t launched them yet and 41 percent haven’t considered the idea. Companies with more than 5,000 employees tend to offer the programs, Mercer said.

Engineers Take the Lead

The engineering industry has embraced returnships, with companies including GM and Booz Allen launching programs to attract people looking to return to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

GM’s Take 2 program started in spring 2016 with the goal of improving the automaker’s gender diversity in the STEM areas, Scott Klott, talent acquisition lead for international and cross functional innovations at GM, told Bloomberg Law. The intent behind GM’s program isn’t just to give workers new skills and send them on their way; the company’s overall plan is to employ the workers after the returnship program ends, Klott said.

The Take 2 program is a 12-week paid internship that provides workers with professional development coaching and on-the-job training in technical areas such as manufacturing and functional engineering. Participants interact and get to know one another, Jessica Galich, gender diversity and Take 2 recruiting lead at GM, told Bloomberg Law.

Returnships benefit workers and companies, Galich said. Workers have an easier ramp-up period because they’re brushing up on skills they already had, and they bring maturity and life experiences to their jobs, she said.

Global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has several returnship programs. One of the company’s programs is designed for women engineers looking to come back to work after gap years. Another focuses on helping military spouses return to work.

Word Spreading on Program Benefits

Returnships are likely to catch on as employers look for different ways to attract talent, Pam Jeffords, partner with Mercer, told Bloomberg Law.

“It is a supply-and-demand pull. I think women who are at home are looking for a company that is going to receive them well. This returnship is a sign that we are ready for you and we would like you in our workforce,” she said.

The number of companies offering returnships is quite small, but that isn’t because of cost—it’s because it’s a fairly new concept, Fishman Cohen said.

“Our prediction is that these programs will continue to proliferate. We have seen an explosion of them in the last three to five years,” she said. Companies that offer these programs are hiring 50 percent to 100 percent of the people that go through them, she said.