STOCK Career building / jobs
Someone taking a career break will not find it easy returning back into full-throttled workplaces. This is why companies should be running returnship progams. Image Credit: Shutterstock

We know the corporate world has changed, with many organisations adapting to new ways of working. One area that needs more attention is how companies can support the growing group returning to work after a career break.

Stats show that career breaks are becoming increasingly common, with more and more people taking time out. It’s a reality LinkedIn recognises, having added a career break option to their profile section in 2022. According to LinkedIn’s data, 62 per cent of employees have taken a break at some point.

Women are particularly likely to press pause; 1.8 million of them exited the workforce during the pandemic, adding to the existing pool already taking career breaks.

There are many reasons why someone might take a career break. The most common include caregiving responsibilities, motherhood, poor health, international relocation, further education and professional development. While career breaks can be a positive experience for many, they can also be challenging.

Returning can be difficult, especially after an extended absence. These individuals often have to deal with skill gaps, loss of networks, age discrimination, and lack of confidence.

One risk is that the obstacles seem insurmountable, preventing people from returning altogether, which has a significant impact socially and economically. When people cannot participate fully and companies can’t access skilled professionals, it can lead to lower productivity and economic growth.

It can also result in social problems, such as poverty and inequality. Consequently, companies need to consider how to best re-integrate this talent pool.

Returnship programs are an effective solution gaining traction globally. While still relatively new in the Middle East, several major names have introduced them, including Google, Microsoft, and McKinsey. As more follow suit, the benefits will become clear.

Returnship program - how can you create one?

This is a paid internship designed for professionals who have taken career breaks. They typically last three to six months. By reskilling and upskilling returners, companies can strengthen their workforce and send a clear message about their commitment to diversity, flexibility and investing in people.

Before getting started, the responsible department should consider the following:

  • Get buy-in from senior leadership. It is important to have the support of senior leadership before launching a returnship programme so that it has the right resources to be successful.
  • Define the goals. What do you hope to achieve with your returnship program? Do you want to attract and retain top talent? Build a more diverse and inclusive workplace? Improve productivity and profitability? Once the goals are clear, you can tailor the approach accordingly.
  • Develop a programme structure. This includes deciding on the length, eligibility criteria, selection process, training and development opportunities, and mentorship support.
  • Promotion. Once you have developed a structure, you must promote the programme to potential candidates. You can do this through your website, social media, and job boards.
  • Select candidates. When selecting candidates, look for individuals who are motivated, have strong skills, and are a good fit for your company culture.
  • Provide training and development opportunities. Participants should have the opportunity to refresh their skills and learn new ones. You can provide this training through formal courses, workshops, or on-the-job training.
  • Assign mentors. They can provide participants with guidance and support. Mentors can help participants transition back into the workforce, understand the company culture, and develop their skills.
  • Provide networking opportunities. Participants should have the opportunity to network with other professionals in their field. This can be done through social events, mentoring, and other networking initiatives.

Supporting returnships makes good business sense, helping to attract and retain top talent, build a more diverse and inclusive workplace, and improve productivity and profitability. It’s time to break the stigma around career breaks and ease people’s transition back to work so individuals and companies can thrive.

The writer is founder of NMH.