How returnship programs benefit business

black business woman sitting at her desk
Since its inception by Goldman Sachs ten years ago, the returnship has become an increasingly popular hiring strategy for many companies.

Over the past few years, the benefits of these initiatives to returning professionals have been frequently extolled, but despite returnships becoming more commonplace, many organisations are yet to realise their value.

This is something the UK government has taken small steps to change, setting aside £5m to support returning professionals in early 2017, and pledging further funding for returnship schemes in the future.

So, potential financial incentives aside, what exactly do businesses stand to gain from implementing a returnship program?

Why do businesses launch returnship programs?

Hiring and training new employees can be massively costly to businesses — returnships give companies access to already skilled and experienced professionals. By opening their doors to candidates who might otherwise be hesitant to apply for such positions due to their time out of the workforce, businesses can take advantage of a wealth of otherwise untapped talents.

Plus, by hiring those whose skills require only a little “fine-tuning”, businesses can save a small fortune on employee development.

Returnships can also be a boon for a company’s brand, illustrating their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

How returnships can benefit businesses

There are a huge number of ways in which establishing a returnship program can benefit businesses.

For starters, returnships allow companies to access qualified, senior-level professionals who may not otherwise have been on their recruitment radar.

Returners come laden with previous experience, solid skill sets, and familiarity with workplace expectations; things which can take businesses a lot of time and money to build up in new employees. Professionals with a great foundation of skills and knowledge will likely only need cursory training on some of the key developments or softwares they might have missed out on during their career break, allowing them to hit the ground much faster, and at a far lower cost to their new employer.

Returners can bring a cornucopia of soft skills into the business too, keenly honed by their stint out of the workplace. Many returners have spent time as full-time parents or caregivers — experience that bestows them with expertise such as leadership, multitasking, organisation and time management.

Hiring from a usually neglected pool of candidates also helps increase workforce diversity, bringing not only new skills but new ideas and approaches into the mix.

For the more risk-averse businesses, the short-term initial contracts often offered through returnships can mitigate an element of uncertainty. This is especially helpful when recruiting at a senior level, as these high-responsibility positions require companies to put a lot of trust in their new hire.

In addition to gaining otherwise wasted skills for a lower investment, business may also receive a stimulus for taking on professionals returning to the workplace. As mentioned above, there is increasing recognition from government agencies of the importance of return-to-work programs.

A recent report by PwC estimated that the UK’s GDP could be missing out on £1.7bn due to the so-called career break penalty, so it’s likely that they’ll move to recoup some of that cash by offering financial incentives to businesses taking on returners in the future.

No guarantees

That said, as with any hiring strategy, there’s no guarantee that a returnship will work for your business. Hiring a returner comes with all the same potential pitfalls of recruiting a new employee.

Businesses should bear in mind that although they bring with them invaluable skills, returners will often need to be brought up to date with new softwares and ways of working. Returnships aren’t something to be entered into lightly, so make sure you have the time and resources; helping a returner reach their full potential will take work on both sides. But the more you put into the mentoring process, the more you’ll get out of it in the end.

Businesses should approach a returnship with the same level of diligence as they would any other way of hiring, and be as sure as they can that their returner will be a great fit with their team long-term.

The focus should be on training and supporting the returner so that they can meet the requirements of a permanent position once their returnship ends; returnships should never be viewed simply as a “try before you buy” period with a built-in get out clause, or a way to fulfil short-term staffing needs.

Nevertheless, some companies may take comfort in the notion that a returnship offers a fixed-term period in their employ, and if for whatever reason a returner is not up to the task of taking on a continuing position, they aren’t tied to that employee on a continuing basis.

Returnship magic in action

Though they were born in the financial sector, businesses in all industries can enjoy the benefits a returnship can bring.

Return-to-work initiatives, for example, are becoming especially prevalent in the tech world. New systems and programs are rolling out all the time, and not being at the cutting edge of new developments can make those planning a return to the workforce feel out of the loop.

But in reality, the skills needed to build a successful career in IT are timeless; good communication, a passion for innovation and a knack for problem solving lie at the heart of a great IT professional, and any gaps in product knowledge can be filled with a little training.

In what can often be a candidate-scarce industry, tech companies are increasingly looking to returnships in order to bring those valuable skills back to into play in a structured, supported way, where returners can upskill and rediscover their confidence on the job.

Tech is an industry that thrives on new ideas, so supporting the development of new, and existing, skills is essential to keeping businesses moving. So for companies working in the IT sphere, returnships truly are a no-brainer.

Not only do they reap the benefits of welcoming an already-skilled person back to the workplace, they’re helping tackle larger issues, such as industry-specific talent shortages, and the deficit of gender-diverse professionals in the tech field.

Addressing these problems through implementing a returnship program can have favourable ramifications externally. Nurturing new talent helps industries grow, and businesses that are seen to be working towards solutions, and giving back to their respective communities, can garner a lot of positive exposure. This was certainly the case for the companies involved in a recent push to attract returning talent into the Microsoft channel.

Microsoft recently teamed up with several of its UK partner companies, along with IT recruitment organisation Nigel Frank, to launch the Diversity in Dynamics initiative. The program offered a paid, 16-week returnship position with a participating partner, as well as free training and mentorship from Microsoft itself.

Tasked with sourcing potential returners, the recruiter launched a marketing campaign targeting parents and caregivers looking to restart their careers in tech. The drive was a success; several returners are now on their way to a new career in IT consulting, with the partner companies enjoying a significant uptick in their internal knowledge.

There have also been some unexpected benefits for the companies involved — Nigel Frank’s parent company Frank Recruitment Group was subsequently nominated for a 2018 Women in IT Award in the E-Skills Initiative of the Year category.

Clearly, the value that a returning professional can bring to a workplace is immeasurable, and businesses who put in the time to help returners develop can find themselves gleaning the benefits long into the future.

In the short-term, recruiting through returnships can save businesses both time and money by bringing mature talent, that would otherwise take years to cultivate, back into the workforce.

By breaking from traditional hiring strategies and taking the focus away from hard skills, returnships offer businesses more room to take in a candidate’s experience, enthusiasm, and potential cultural fit, reducing the risk of a costly poor hire. There are also a large number of returnship broker organisations who can help match organisations with skilled people eager to re-ignite their careers.

Returnships also allow companies to benefit from returners’ skills and know-how, while also giving them space to shape their new team members’ training to the benefit of both parties.

So, when it comes to returnships, it really is a case of virtue being its own reward for the businesses that implement them — but it certainly won’t do your brand any damage either.

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