There’s a (not so new) trend of providing internships for returning workers. This allows workers and employers a better path for modern, wiggly careers.
The latest trend in HR is a returnship. It’s a return internship for those who have been out of the job market but are looking to return to it. This has the potential to really boost the labor market, and to be a total disaster for a company.
Returnships aren't new. I first started seeing them during the Great Recession. Over a decade ago NYC's Economic Development Council funded SUNY Levin Institute's JumpStart program which helped unemployed people explore new career paths (press release). We knew that, unlike previous recessions, the jobs being lost weren’t coming back and so the best solution for everyone—workers, employers, and the city—was to put people on a new career path.
Some returnships focus on technical skills, like catching people up with newer tools. For example, ten years ago we had lots of marketers that didn't know social media, and so looked to brush up on skills. Technical skills tend to be a less efficient use of the returnship. It’s even more true today since mechanical knowledge, like how to use social media or some other software can be learned online.
For many, understanding and adjusting to workplace culture was key. For example, we had many people laid off from big corporations during the Great Recession. They came from companies of tens of thousands of people and were used to having a pre-meeting for the planning meeting that happened before the actual meeting. Decisions took weeks and had to get buy-in from multiple departments. The companies hiring coming out of the Great Recession were startups in which the "meeting" was a two-minute conversation in the hallway. Getting used to a different work style (like decisions made on the spot) is where the internships we offered really helped. Mechanical skills can be learned many ways, but culture and workstyle, like sports or music, are best learned by doing.
Today, those coming back to the workforce are doing so having last worked in a pre-Covid 9-to-5 office. As people come back into a virtual or hybrid workforce that's going to be the biggest challenge for many and where such returnships can help.
Today, those coming back to the workforce are doing so having last worked in a pre-Covid 9-to-5 office. As people come back into a virtual or hybrid workforce that's going to be the biggest challenge for many and where such returnships can help. Both the employee and employer can benefit.
For the worker it's not unlike a warmup match before you enter the big tournament. It helps them get used to being back in an office, or these days into a virtual office which is new for many returning workers. It can expose them to newer or previously unexperienced tools, skills, and techniques. The key is that returns (that seems wrong, what do we call returnship interns?) shouldn’t expect to master them during the returnship; but they see them in action and can follow through with online education to round out their knowledge.
The company benefits from better marketing of jobs to the labor force (yes, HR needs to actively market and sell jobs) and shows that they are a good corporate citizen. It also provides a path back for those who have extended periods of unemployment due to macroeconomic events, health or family issues, or other reasons that took them out of the labor market for an extended period. This is particularly important to employers during tight labor markets, but hopefully will continue even after the labor market softens. Importantly, the company should be clear in its expectations. Returnships shouldn't be seen as free or cheap labor since the output during this ramp up time is minimal.
Both sides can benefit from a try-before-you-buy experience. One of the hardest things to assess in an interview, from both sides, is cultural fit. Spending a few weeks inside a company both parties can figure it out fast.
As the workforce continues to shift from one career to multiple careers, interspersed with periods of post-college education as an adult (not only graduate degrees but also online learning, certificates, and other education), the idea of internships for adult works will become more common. This benefits both the workers and employers. I hope to see more companies, and employees, embrace such new types of employment.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.