Returnships: Great Opportunity or Cheap Labor?

5 years ago

A new trend is taking hold for people 40-plus returning to the workforce. It's called a returnship (a spin-off of the word internship, and trademarked by Goldman Sachs).

The purpose of a returnship is for a mature worker who has been out of the workforce for a few years (usually at least 2 years, so people recently unemployed and unable to find work are not eligible) to be able to come back to work and prove themselves while gaining valuable skills. Time magazine recently ran an article on this trend and goes on to explain:

Returnships were designed with women in mind, as a means for bringing mothers back into the workforce after raising children. But men are eligible too. Candidates are invited to a trial period lasting a period of weeks or months. Like college-aged interns, they may earn little or no pay but get the chance to prove they have what it takes to be hired full-time.

While working for cheap or free might not hold much appeal for a middle-aged adult professional with a myriad of financial obligations, it is one creative way to get out there and prove yourself while building your professional network. If you've been out of the workforce for 2+ years (and for working mothers that might be more like 10+ years) but previously held roles of high-responsibility and skill, this sort of arrangement may just be your best bet for landing a much higher quality job than simply applying for opportunities. You get to build relationships, hone your skills, and get back in the flow of being in a formal, professional setting.

Image: Daquella manera via Flickr

In the Harvard Business Review , the article "The 40-Year-Old Intern" tells the tale of Kathy Bayert, a Kellogg School MBA who put her high-powered career on hold in 2003 to raise her children.

While scouring online job boards one day, she encountered an unfamiliar term: Sara Lee was advertising a “returnship.” It turned out that the opening was a short-term paid position designed for a professional who’d been out of the workforce for several years—basically, an internship for an experienced worker whose time off might scare recruiters away. Bayert applied, was accepted, and signed on. After her initial six-month assignment, she was hired as a senior manager of organizational effectiveness. The program, she says, was “critical as a springboard back into the workforce.”

This type of arrangement can be positive for both employer and employee. For little or low cost and risk, an employer can find the right fit for a particular job. Even though unemployment is high, employers still struggle with finding the right person for certain jobs. For the employee, it is that elusive chance to get a foot in the door.

Let's face it, many people use volunteering as a way to gain skills, network, and make productive use of gaps in a resume already. A returnship offers you another avenue to do that in a for-profit organization that may appeal to you as a full-time employer.

In a tough job market and economy, sometimes it pays to delay income for the shot at opening a few doors.

What are your thoughts? Have you used a returnship type arrangement to return to the workforce? Comment below...

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