Redesigning Return to Work
We believe expertise and experience come in a variety of forms, whether it’s from a professional setting or life outside the office. Your personal ambitions may have led you to take a pause in your career – giving you a broader perspective. The decision to re-enter the workforce after an extended career break can be both exciting and challenging.
A returnship is similar to an internship in that it is a pre-determined period of time for an individual to train and familiarize themselves with the practices of an A/E firm. They are specifically geared toward adults that have served in the A/E sphere for at least 5 years and have taken time away from their careers for at least 1 year. These individuals are interested in re-entering the workforce on either a full-time or part-time basis.
In all cases, a returnship is a paid opportunity.
While internships are meant for those individuals gaining new professional experience, returnships are meant for those that are re-entering the workforce from a lengthy sabbatical, with experience in their respective field. While an internship is intended to introduce new technical principles and acumen, returnships provide a reintroduction to the office environment, updates to the practice, and the full client/project structure in a firm.
What are the benefits of a returnship for those re-entering the workforce? What are the benefits for the firm?
Returnships provide an “on ramp” for those getting reacclimated to the workforce, providing a space to relearn principles and readjust to the office environment, while still providing value to projects and the firm. An ideal returnship will provide an experiential opportunity for the returner, while giving him/her the confidence to train on new settings and teams in the modern office setting.
In turn, firms are given the option of working with experienced employees and gaining new, diverse talent. These programs also provide firms an immediate opportunity to increase the number of mid-career and senior talent on staff.
Returnships are expected to be long enough to offer full experience on a project, introduce new systems and technical training, all while working in an office environment. As such, a typical returnship is expected to last anywhere from 8-15 weeks. However, these positions are intended to eventually develop into long-term employment at the firm.
An ideal returnship program will have multiple participants so there is a place to make connections and share experiences with others re-entering the workforce. This will provide much needed support at a sensitive time for the individual participating, as well as a sounding board as new skill sets are tested and developed. In the event that a firm can only support one ‘returner’ at a time, it is recommended that participants have a resource and mentor within the firm to provide advice and reinforcement throughout the experience.
Returnship Best Practices
All firms and returners should agree on a system that is best for all parties. While all returnships will be different, below is a list of best practices that will not only provide a supportive experience for the returner but aid the firm in developing a strong future employee.
For many returners, this will be the start of their reintroduction to the workforce following an extended hiatus. It’s important that firms provide a workspace for the returner as well as a part-time schedule as the returner re-acclimates to the office environment and workday schedule, as
While it is important that finances not be a barrier for participants, a successful returnship will also provide returners with options for value outside of the position, such as health insurance, continuing education, networking opportunities, and trainings.
Establish immediate training with a team member to introduce new concepts and technology, but also softer skills, such as networking and coaching
It is expected that most returners will need training on technical skills and new processes, but a hiatus from the professional community will also present a need for additional coaching on key skills, such as how to best engage with teammates, managing project loads, and building client relationships.
Despite prior experience, a returner will need time to readjust and relearn skills, and in some cases, will need added time to learn new systems. Both the firm and returner should expect a brief period of adjustment for both parties, with the expectation that the firm will have developed a stronger employee.
Firms should actively communicate all company policies and procedures and project expectations to acclimate the returner to the firm culture. This includes providing opportunities for returners to participate in different areas of the firm and projects. This will provide the returner with a broader skill base and deeper understanding of the industry.
Ensure a team of employees is available for questions and support; including a formal mentor, if possible
A returnship is likely a big transition for the employee. While they will likely work with managers and teams, it is vital that the returner have a dedicated contact (or group) to support them in their experience. Ideally, this will also include a formal mentor that will familiarize the returner with the leadership track, assist with concerns and obstacles, and provide relevant experience and knowledge throughout the process.