Matthew Urwin | Mar 17, 2023

A returnship is essentially a paid internship for adult professionals who have taken a break from the traditional workforce and are looking to re-start their careers. These back-to-work programs may include projects, mentors and training to help returning workers adapt to industry changes. Through a returnship, experienced workers can transition back into relevant roles as opposed to starting their careers from scratch.

What Is a Returnship?

A returnship is a program that helps professionals re-enter the traditional workforce after an extended break. Returnships are similar to internships but are typically full-time, paid and geared toward more experienced workers. They often include mentorships to help reacquaint returners with the work environment.

While not all companies are accepting of long career absences, more businesses recognize the value of returnships and the workers these programs support.

What Is a Returnship?

Returnship programs are similar in concept to internships, providing on-the-job training and mentoring to people who have work experience but have left the workforce for a year or more and are seeking to re-enter it. 

The goal of these programs is to ease the transition back into the workforce after a long break, which tends to range between three to five years, Arleen Gallagher, partnership director for tech consulting and recruiting company Akraya’s Women Back to Work program, told Built In.

Returners are often women who have temporarily left the workforce to raise children, become primary caregivers for elderly family members, relocate with spouses or partners, seek self-care, or recover from bereavement.

And when they are ready to return to the workforce, they find it more difficult to rejoin because employers, when hiring, tend to prioritize those who are currently employed as they believe those candidates will become productive more quickly because their skills are more up to date, said Veronica Villegas, senior program manager for returnships at Amazon

This was the case with software engineer Tasneem Saghir, who stepped out of the workforce in June 2021 due to a series of life events, including a major move to the U.S. from India, increasing family obligations and health issues. Once she was ready to reenter the workforce, she found companies were unwilling to give her a second chance. 

“The biggest problem I faced was not getting interview calls,” Saghir told Built In. “Recruiters were approaching me over the phone and email, but when they got to know about my career break they never gave me a call back.”

Carol Fishman Cohen on how to get back to work after a career break. | Video: TED

But things changed when Saghir connected with the Women Back to Work program, which helped her land a senior software engineering role in LinkedIn’s ReturnIn program. As a result, Saghir was able to receive the structured environment and support that many workers require to build up their resumes after a gap in their careers. 

Under a returnship program, which usually lasts three to six months, the returner is often teamed up with a mentor and, in some cases, a work buddy, who frequently checks in with them as a supplement to meetings with their hiring manager. This support team helps a returner not only become familiar with working at that particular organization but also to attune to meeting deadlines, balancing work and life, and adjusting to a workplace’s environment and pace, Gallagher said.

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What Are the Benefits of a Returnship?

Returning professionals have much to gain from returnships, and companies can enrich their teams by welcoming these experienced workers into their ranks.


More Opportunities for People of Diverse Backgrounds 

Returnships welcome in diverse talent who can bring a lot to the table but would benefit from additional support in the beginning.

“We see this program as a way to access new talent pools in a competitive market. Second, this initiative is part of our commitment to increasing the diversity of our workforce and hiring people from all backgrounds,” Villegas said. “Returners have previous professional experience and bring unique and desirable skills with them into experienced roles.”

More than 75 percent of the Amazon returnship program’s participants are women, a group hit particularly hard at the start of the pandemic as they disproportionately left the workforce to care for children as daycares and schools closed.

Cybersecurity company Palo Alto Networks also wanted to move the needle and bring back more women into the workforce, said Anand Oswal, senior vice president of products for network security and executive sponsor for the Palo Alto Networks Returnship program.


On-the-Job Training 

For Saghir, the greatest benefit and lesson learned in her returnship program has been how to approach a project, prioritize its tasks and deliver it on time, she said.

Returnees may need some time to redevelop some of the soft skills required for the workforce, such as time management and decision-making. By engaging in meaningful projects, workers can retrain their brains to function within a nine-to-five schedule and learn how to make the most of each workday.  


In-Depth Mentorship and Professional Guidance

Saghir meets with her mentor three times a week, has a biweekly one-on-one meeting with her manager and a monthly one-on-one meeting with her women in technology (WIT) champion, a senior technical program management manager who is guiding Saghir toward her senior role and answering questions on topics ranging from company culture to networking and continued education. Saghir is also working on a live project with a mentor who helps her to navigate the product and the company’s internal tools. 


A Sense of Community and Renewed Confidence

Returners like Saghir also benefit from the safety and support they receive in returnships and are more likely to feel comfortable asking for help and notifying others when they don’t know something, John Dooney, an HR advisor with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), told Built In.

Jumping back into the workforce can be intimidating. Easing returnees into their roles allows them to nurture the belief that they have the skills to perform their jobs with a bit more practice and training.  


Networking Opportunities  

Returnships provide spaces for returnees to connect with other professionals, especially within mentor relationships. Returnees may also have lessons and insights to offer from their experiences, forming stronger bonds with a company’s employees. 

“There’s a gap when hiring a returnee but it’s a much narrower gap than when you hire somebody fresh out of school,” said Robert Kelley, a management professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business

As a result, mentor-returnee relationships may feel more like a relationship between equals, opening the door for long-lasting professional connections. 


Free Resources and Benefits

Many returnship programs are paid for by companies, so returnees can undergo training, enhance their skills and network with employees — all without paying a dime. Another nice perk is that some businesses may offer returnees access to some of the benefits that regular employees enjoy. For example, a returnship may include employee resource groups, enabling returnees to form genuine connections with employees during the program. 


Exposure to the Latest Tools and Trends

Even if a returnee possesses experience working in a senior role, their industry may have changed drastically since they left the field. Returnships are a great way for returning workers to get up to speed on the most recent technologies, techniques and trends needed to excel within their chosen field. Demonstrating knowledge of how to navigate the current work ecosystem will make returnees much more attractive candidates for companies.   


Easier Career Transitions

While not always the case, some returnship programs are established with the goal of converting returnees into full-time employees. Paid returnships are then a free lifeline for individuals looking to resurrect their careers after years away from the job.

And even if a returnship doesn’t end in a job offer, returnees will have more updated skills and training that they can display when reaching out to other businesses.


9 Companies Offering Returnships

These companies invest in returnships, providing programs that help previously absent workers reacquaint themselves with the demands of the workplace.


Accenture supports tech workers returning to the workforce with its Technology Returnship Program. Fully paid and lasting 16 weeks, the program exposes workers to technologies and techniques like the cloud, AI, DevOps and agile. After relearning old skills and mastering new tools, participants can apply what they’ve learned through company projects. Returnees may be promoted to full-time positions, depending on their performance and the needs of the business.


Collaborating with reacHIRE, Fidelity Investments has created a returnship program that is open to anyone who has been absent from the workforce for at least two years, including those who worked in part-time or contract roles. Returnees spend six months developing their skills, prepping their resumes and working with a program manager. Those who complete the program may go on to work in areas like marketing, finance and project management.


Palo Alto Networks has partnered with the Women Back to Work program to develop its own returnship program. Labeled as Returnship 2.0, the program caters to professionals who have experience as full-stack developers, front-end developers, QA automation engineers and security engineers. Participants get to work on projects that are tied to the business’ success while receiving coaching, mentorship and community through a peer returner group.


IBM offers a paid, full-time Tech-Re-Entry program in the U.S., Canada, Germany, the UK, Australia, China and India. By working with multidisciplinary teams, participants can expand their skills, complete real-world projects and regain their confidence. The end goal of the program is to have participants graduate into full-time roles at IBM, and the program has been touted as a major boost for women re-entering tech professions.


Goldman Sachs has been refining its returnship program since 2008, resulting in a comprehensive program for those removed from the workforce for at least two years. Over the course of six months, participants experience on-the-job training, leadership development and community-building sessions. Mentors and Goldman Sachs’ returnship team guide participants throughout this process, offering support when needed.


Intuit’s 16-week returnship program is designed for those who have had to step away from the workforce due to caregiving and other personal reasons. Participants can bring their skills up to date with onboarding bootcamps, career development programs and one-on-one mentoring sessions. Leaders, program managers and former returnees lead Intuit’s returnship and act as valuable resources for participants.


Credit Suisse gives returning workers a chance to rejoin the financial services industry with its Real Returns program. Each participant is supported by a mentor, a work buddy and the company’s Real Returns team. In addition to projects, workers undergo in-depth training and get to hone their tech and presentation skills. Networking events also provide crucial opportunities for returnees to connect with seasoned professionals.


HubSpot’s Returners Program is a 20-week program open to those who are ready to jump back into the workforce after being away for an extended period. The program focuses on professional growth and support, equipping participants with job training and plenty of chances to upgrade their skill sets. In addition, HubSpot showcases employee resource groups that contribute to a welcoming atmosphere for returnees.


In partnership with the Society of Women Engineers and iRelaunch, General Motors has cultivated a returnship program that caters to those with a range of technical backgrounds, including vehicle engineering, manufacturing operations, finance and IT. Named Take 2, the program is fully paid and takes 12 weeks to complete. Participants can revamp their resumes with job training and professional development opportunities.

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