Opinion

How returnships can benefit your business

5 min read

23 May 2017

It doesn’t matter how qualified or experienced you were beforehand, after a long break you may be asking whether you can pick up where you left off. That's where returnships come in.

Returnships – or returning professional internships – aim to provide employees returning to work with a smooth glide path. The term was born of finance company Goldman Sachs where returnships were trialled for the first time in 2008. Years later the concept is more commonplace, with well-known companies creating personalised versions of the scheme.

In order to get a better understanding of how returnships can benefit both employee and employer, Page Executive hosted its Midlands Women in Business event in Birmingham. During the panel session we brought the discussion to Dame Denise Holt, non-executive director at HSBC, Danuta Grey, independent non-executive board director at PageGroup and Beverly Nicholas, regional talent director at PageGroup.

Perfecting the glide path for returners

Although available to most employees, returnships are primarily focused on middle-aged returnees, particularly women who may have had a career break to either start or focus on their family, and for whom technology might have moved on since they were last in work. For these people, returnships provide returnees with the chance to start a new career or simply pick up where they left off after an extended period, with a structured back-to-work plan to make the whole process easier.

Sceptics might ask: what do returnships really offer? While there may be unfounded stigma attached to those who have been off work for a prolonged period, these programmes have many benefits. According to Nicholas, structured returnships give returnees the opportunity to redevelop or rediscover the confidence they may have lost during their time out of work by helping to dissolve any self-limiting beliefs in terms of their capabilities.

Equally, Grey highlighted the benefit of regular communication. Whether facilitated through buddying or mentoring schemes, returnships provide returnees with someone to talk to about the initial hurdles of returning to the workplace, and act as a confidence builder for them should they need it.

Return on investments

From a business perspective, the benefits of successful returnships are huge, especially when hiring at more senior levels. Despite being out of work for a number of years, the experience and skills an individual gained before their sabbatical are often still highly valuable. For example, someone who worked as an accountant or marketer five years ago is unlikely to have forgotten the core elements of their role; it may just be a matter of learning how to use a new software package, work with a new team or understand a new approach.

According to Holt, companies should consider both the skills an individual has developed throughout their career and those they have developed whilst on a career break. The skills needed for domestic life can be very close to those required in the workplace – namely the ability to multi-task, manage time effectively and general organisation.

She continued her point: many parents, for example, get involved in their local communities, serving on committees or organising events during their time off. Experiences like this can provide individuals with the transferable skills they need to get back into work-life.

In addition, Grey also suggested that there is an additional benefit to businesses in terms of the time and money they have already invested in staff who return to the business after a break. Many businesses will have invested a lot in finding great people – particularly in training and developing them post-hire. With retaining talent such a high priority in today’s job market, returnships are a clear way to maximise the return on an initial investment by inviting previous employees back into the workplace.

Reaping returnship rewards

Ultimately, reaping the rewards of returnships depends on how well businesses can execute them – the more investment businesses put into these schemes to begin with, the quicker they will be able to see the benefits. At the end of the day, it all boils down to what drives great recruitment in the first place: finding the best talent for the right roles and holding on to the high achievers.

Helen Schwarz, is director at Page Executive, part of PageGroup