Companies are offering ‘returnships’ for caregivers aiming to get back to work

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Ask a mother who left her career to raise a family what it’s like to return to the workforce. She’ll probably tell you that the job search process is even more frustrating than trying to get a teenager to clean their room.

“It was demoralizing and discouraging,” said Cinda Amyx, now a global marketing partner at software giant SAP.

The Allentown, NJ, resident spent an entire year applying for opportunities. While Amyx was able to land a few interviews, she wasn’t hired, despite the fact that her resume not only included project manager positions at some of the world’s most admired companies but also a consulting gig at a Ph.D. program at MIT.

So, what was the problem? Amyx’s career didn’t follow a linear path, and, fairly or unfairly, her experience as a stay-at-home mother didn’t count for much. “I was competing for jobs with professionals who never left the workplace,” she said.

With a record-setting two million-plus women having left the workforce since the pandemic began, “the situation is likely to get worse,” according to Tami Forman, executive director of Path Forward. The New York City-based nonprofit’s mission is to give people who have taken time out of the workforce to care for loved ones a path to re-enter.

For parents who hadn’t planned to step out of their jobs to care for family, not only have they lost the paychecks they had been banking on, but also employer contributions to their retirement programs and seniority in their jobs — plus, get this, their skills could already have become out of date.

In response, LinkedIn has recently added “stay-at-home mom,” “stay-at-home dad” and “stay-at-home parent” options to their profiles. Prior to that, there had to be a company name associated with every job title.

“[The change] allows full-time parents and caretakers to more accurately display their roles,” wrote Bef Ayenew, an engineering leader at LinkedIn.

Job re-entry can also be stressful, ego-shattering and disorienting.

“I had to work to reconnect with the professional image of myself and recognize that my intellect and capabilities haven’t changed since I left [the workforce],” said Beth Frasco, now a program manager at NBCUniversal Media. The Ridgefield, Conn., resident, who has both a master’s degree and an MBA, said getting a job after raising four kids was tough. “It’s hard to get past the bias of having a gap in your career,” she said.

To correct this problem, organizations like Path Forward have been working with employers such as Audible and SAP to create “returnships”— mid-career internships that give professionals a jump start to a new career while giving companies access to a diverse talent force.

Frasco, who attended a Path Forward career restart seminar in 2018, was able to land a returnship at NBCUniversal Media.

Their program, Act Two, is a career relaunch program that offers six-month paid, fixed-term roles for professionals returning to the workforce. NBCUniversal was so impressed with Frasco that they offered her a full-time position.

Kathryn Zaharek, who has a master’s degree, recently completed a software engineering immersive at General Assembly to show employers that she had the training needed to hit the ground running.

Still, it wasn’t until the Newtown, Conn., resident connected with Path Forward that she was led to information about Audible’s paid returnship program, Next Chapter, out of Newark, NJ. Through Path Forward, she was able to access webinars about the company’s specific program, attend recruiter roundtables and see what it takes to ace the returnship interview. There’s also content on what it takes to be successful once you land the gig.

Returnships typically last several weeks or months, and it’s only after you’ve been successful that you are offered a permanent job. Luckily, that happens more often than not: More than 80 percent of returnees become employees. Like Amyx, for example, who was initially brought into SAP via the company’s returnship program, Path Forward at SAP NYC, at the end of 2018.

“I have my mojo back,” she said.

TIPS FOR SUCCESS

  • Keep up with the latest trends in your profession during your time outside of the workplace, said Amyx.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Especially at a time like this, remember that you are competing against many extremely talented individuals, said Zaharek. Cut yourself some slack once you restart your work life. It’s not easy to balance everything.
  • Consider pro bono activities before you start searching for work, including career-building projects. You can also take leadership positions in volunteer organizations while you’re parenting children, said Frasco.

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