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Thought Leadership in Action

Category: HR

3 Ways to Run Better Returnship Programs

It’s getting harder to find great talent these days. Human resources professionals will need to become savvy about new practices if they want to meet the changing demands of the labor market and workforce.

In 2020, COVID-19 exacerbated an already declining labor force, as nearly 4 million more Americans stopped looking for work due to the pandemic. Family responsibilities are growing as millions more Americans provide family caregiving, a task that primarily falls on women. With the Department of Education predicting that 57% of college students will be women by 2026, those responsibilities will shape the pathways companies can take to attract the right talent.

“Several demographic trends are at play that make flexibility and return programs an imperative for employers,” says Gwenn Rosener, co-founder of FlexProfessionals. “Given these trends, returnships and return-to-work opportunities help assist HR talent and diversity objectives but must be carefully structured to support these candidates.”

Get Buy-in From Hiring Managers

Programmatic success only occurs when you can use a returnship to generate repeatable workforce results. Some barriers to results are internal, and the most common is pushback from hiring managers and supervisors when returnships break with “how things are done.”

HR managers should work with anyone who will oversee a returnship hire to explain the process and its benefits. This communication can ease tensions and create champions in the organization who can demonstrate and share in the program’s success.

“To help build buy-in and support, we recommend HR managers develop an internal communication plan that conveys a strong business and imperative for hiring returners,” says Rosener. “The business case should be supported by and aligned with the key values and corporate objectives being communicated by top leaders.”

Match Positions To Returnship Benefits

“We’ve seen the most success in returnships for lower-mid-level roles with independent contributor responsibilities, compared to positions with management responsibilities,” says Rosener. “Prioritize roles where the hiring manager understands and values return-to-work candidates and where training is a standard part of the role, such as learning a company-specific system or process. In these cases, success is not as dependent on what a candidate knows coming in, but instead on the candidate’s aptitude and ability to learn and execute on the job.”

Rosener says HR professionals can identify positions suited to returnships by common characteristics:

  • Flexibility in how and when tasks are accomplished
  • Trainable requirements
  • Measurable and clear goals
  • Strong group of teammates
  • Supportive bosses

Plan for New Employees To Be Different

Companies and HR leaders are best served when thinking about returnships as a talent acquisition strategy to build an ongoing pipeline of candidates. This mindset puts these candidates in the proper context and can highlight potential long-term organizational benefits.

Three essential areas of difference stand out:

  1. Screening: HR professionals should focus on readiness to return and having core skills such as technological aptitude, not on treating returns as brand-new workers.
  2. Training: Positions should have a strong training component to provide on-the-job education on advanced skills and updates.
  3. Mentoring: Assigning a mentor supports the candidate while also offering a sounding board to help HR understand issues that candidates face with the transition or within an organization.
"With the ‘pipeline’ approach, a company capitalizes on open jobs throughout the year that can be made attractive to returners and have characteristics that support returners’ success,” says Rosener. “This approach is a more flexible, affordable and sustainable alternative to traditional returnships – and, we believe, a more empowering way for returners to re-engage in the workforce.”

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