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'Returnships' Help Older Workers

MANY WORKERS IN MIDDLE years-and mid-career-suddenly find themselves reeling from the shock of being unexpectedly laid off or fired, often for budgetary reasons.

And it's an even bigger shock to find that potential employers are hesitant to hire them because they fear that by middle age the workers haven't acquired the 'updated' skills needed in today's market. Some job seekers struggle to learn those skills by going back to school or taking online courses, but John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., outplacement and employment consultants, has a better idea.

He believes. employees and employers both may benefit from "returnships:" internships for older professionals, returning mothers, transitioning military, and the long-term unemployed.

"Employers are consistently wary of employment gaps brought on by a layoff, parenthood, or some other life event that prohibits working. A 'returnship' for former or transitioning professionals with otherwise sterling employment records, but prolonged unemployment, solves this issue," said Challenger.

"Candidates, such as returning mothers or retirees, who have been out of work for six months or longer are perceived as having outdated skills.  As a result, they are often screened out early in the recruiting process.  A 'returnship' on a resume shows the employer that the candidates are willing to learn, have updated training and recent on-the-job experience, making them much more marketable," said Challenger.

"The benefit to companies, unlike with entry-level interns, is that returnees can be assigned more complicated projects depending on their previous industry experience and set of skills." 

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, Goldman Sachs offered an 8- week, paid "returnship" for non-client facing departments in 2008. The effort resulted in 6 hirings from the 11 attendees. Since then, the program has grown to include positions nationwide and helped 120 individuals return to the workforce, according the company's 2011 Environmental, Social and Governance Report. Moreover, those enrolled took on advanced tasks, such as developing training programs or creating mechanisms for client confidentiality.

"Companies would be wise to invest in 'returnship' programs in order to find and develop the right talent for their organization, which does not always mean the youngest or most malleable. Older professionals, returning mothers, and veterans already have the on-the-job experience most internships are created to impart on college-aged job seekers," said Challenger.

"Professionals interested in pursuing this sort of opportunity should not sit back and wait for a company to develop a 'returnship' program. Request meetings with high-level executives at companies that interest you and suggest starting such a program yourself. If you can convince one company of the benefits, others may follow suit.
"Just like with entry-level interns, getting your foot in the door is not the end of the line. Meeting the right people during your time at the company is critical. The higher up the executive you impress, the greater the odds that a permanent position will be found for you. Even if they cannot find a spot for you in their company, they may know executives in another company that may have openings.

"Professionals should treat the process as a constant interview. Take initiative, show how you can benefit the company, befriend those who are already employed with the organization, always be on time and professional, and seek feedback," offered Challenger.
 
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