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Is A Career Returnship The Key To Re-launching Your Career?

Posted: May 4, 2021

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A career returnship may be just what you need, if you are all set to re-embark on your career after a hiatus and want to slip back into the work world.

A returnship, in brief is an on-ramp tool which comes in handy when one is compelled to take a break in the middle of his or her career owing to various reasons.

The term, coined by Goldman Sachs in 2008 refers to a program designed to help professionals returning to the workforce after a long break, to minimize obstacles faced by them. Modelled after traditional student internships, organizations hire individuals, during which they pair employment with mentoring and training.

The twin advantages of career returnships are: the restarters acquire confidence, and regain their skills and connections; and those who employ them assess the prospective candidates in which no risk is involved. Returnships provide an excellent introduction to those re-entering the work force after a gap.

They usually last for a period ranging from a few weeks to a few months and typically offer payment that’s commensurate with an individual’s level of experience. It helps folks reacquaint themselves with the culture and pace of today’s work environment and improve skills that may have become rusty.

Why a career returnship is so valuable

In this fast-paced industry where technology changes every minute, women entering their second innings are on the rise. For women, having children and a career does not always go hand in hand especially in our Indian culture, and post-maternity, women invariably face derailment. Several women quit their jobs, not because they would rather stay put at home but mainly because they feel that there is no other option for them.

Career returnship programs are getting to be more popular with companies, and are helping women to return to the workforce after taking a break of two years or more. Reasons for a career break include elder care, childcare, health issues, pursuing personal interests etc. Re-entering the work force after a gap is not at all easy as the divide between the re-launchers and the employers can be very challenging and intimidating.

On returning to the workforce, there may be a clear path that leads to the role which is more or less similar to the one which you left at the time of quitting. Invariably though, the next step for many is murky.

Many a time, employers may view hiring people with a gap on their resume as a high-risk proposition as they fear that relaunchers are not passionate about their career. On the other hand, individuals on a career break may have doubts about their abilities to relaunch their careers, especially if they have been out for a long time. But, believe me, relaunchers are an asset for the workplace as they have already dealt with a maternity, usually expect fewer job relocations and offer more energy and enthusiasm.

In addition to all this, the relaunchers have great work experience and a more mature perspective on the world. We do encounter several career breaks, but what really matters is the enthusiasm to return to work. Those women who have taken a break have two things in common: they are highly educated but lack the network and the confidence to get back on track after a career hiatus.

Returnship programmes are a great boon as candidates do not have to be judged on their resume but on their exact work outcome over a period of two weeks or months.

Returnships slowly rising in India

The debate on work-life balance will continue ad infinitum, but it is heartening to see women getting back to work post their career break much more easily than before, as companies are resorting to proactive steps to bring the talent pool once again into the stream. Several innovative platforms like Reboot India, JobsForHer, and corporate entities keep their ears open, when women’s voices are heard about restarting their work lives.

To mitigate some of the trepidations around ‘return to work’, companies these days, realizing that not everyone fits into the traditional career path, are viewing the entire work-life balance ratio very earnestly.

These re- entries form an untouched pool of diverse, qualified persons who when directed to the right programs definitely do add to the expertise group. These programs give those involved an instant support group, which makes the relaunchers feel that they are not alone as they dip their toes back into the working world. It is an absolutely incredible learning experience which gives maximum exposure to many multiple industries. There is this learning curve that is a part of any new job, which can be easily overcome if you form part of a team.

With gender heterogeneity becoming one of the main factors being considered in Indian companies, the question rises as to how to encourage women who are keen to rejoin the work force after a career interruption. In India, several companies like Tata, Microsoft, Capgemini, IBM, GE, Goldman Sachs and more are helping women return to work by creating such programmes. Some of the Returnship programmes launched by companies include that of Mahindra Logistics’s Udaan; Airbus’s Fly Again; Philips’s ‘Back In the Game ‘; IBM’s ‘Bring Her Back Program’ etc.

This concept of Returnship is quite popular in the United States for women who are looking to brush up their skills before re-entering the work force, more so in the startup world of Silicon Valley. Several are the large companies out there such as Cadence, Synopsys, IBM, Goldman Sachs and Deloitte that offer such career returnship programmes.

Such focused efforts carried out successfully in some organizations, sort out the problem of experience gap through exclusive learning that includes mentoring engagements, training in skills and interactions with people, whether they be leaders or their own fellow participants. While the concept originated in the United States, it is starting to catch on in other parts of the world including our own India, particularly in the banking and finance sectors.

“They have a fire in the belly to prove themselves,” says Neha Bagaria, chief executive of JobsForHer.com in Bengaluru, a job-search website founded to help returning women seek employment. By these women re-entering the work force, a high-quality pipeline for senior positions is also built. It is found that women in senior roles such as CEO, MD, President etc. are lacking in our country. Studies point out those women at the top levels help in the business performance of companies. These days, all-male leadership teams are also not wanted by potential employees and even customers do not seem to favour this.

Any drawbacks to such programs?

Since everything, especially in India, works through references, returnship remains more of a concept than a reality here. Also, a career returnship is most workable when the time that elapses between an employee’s departure and return to work, is not very long.

However the greatest challenge here is the attitude and perception surrounding the concept of returnships. Several companies view it only as women returning to work after a career break. However it is not that alone and has much more to offer.

Whatever your reason or circumstance, there’s a strong chance that you are one among several millions of women hoping to return to work after taking a break. And sure, knowing what you want — respect in the boardroom, a corner office, great salary to name a few things — is great, but fifty percent of the battle is won by just getting to the entrance, especially when there are qualified youngsters who have just then emerged from the universities.

If a significant change is to take place, workplaces need to include more women by making the path of re-entry more accessible. Luckily, the mindset of companies is gradually changing! In the technological field, where talented individuals are most sought after and attrition is a reality, there is a reconsideration on the ways to help women‘s careers after a break.

At this juncture it is imperative for women to understand that motherhood or playing the role of a caregiver is not a punishment. Workplaces are in the process of creating equal opportunities; closing pay gaps and creating more inclusive environments. Even though India is becoming more woman-friendly in the workplaces, the trend is yet to catch up pace and more companies are still expected to give it a thought. For many, a returnship helps them to rejoin the workforce after major life changes, which makes a marked difference in their future.

Address the fears of the employer right away, be prepared on how to tackle each fear, display your enthusiasm and start being proactive as, Returnships are definitely career game-changers!

Top image credits Mangostar Studios/Canva Pro

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