What is a returnship?

Returnships are a type of high level internship which can act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break.

A relatively recent phenomenon, returnships are aimed at talented individuals - usually women - who want to return to work after a period of (often family related) absence, and who wish to return at a similar level at which they took a break.

Returners are typically offered short-term employment contracts with a strong possibility of an ongoing job at the end of the programme. Programmes usually last for a few months and typically offer payment that’s proportionate with an individual’s previous level of experience.

It can be a daunting prospect trying to return to the workplace after having spent a significant amount of time out from business. These programmes are aimed at aiding that transition and helping employers harness talent that would otherwise not be available to them. Well developed and structured returnships are an innovative way of bridging the CV and talent gap and offer an effective transition for both the employer and individual.

The Government and Equalities Office recently issued a report on Returner Programmes: Best Practice for Employers (March 2018) in which employer benefits were cited as:

  • accessing a high-calibre diverse talent pool;
  • having the opportunity to assess participants abilities and results before offering a permanent position;
  • a positive step towards improved gender, age and cognitive diversity; and
  • a low-risk opportunity to assess a potential employee’s suitability for a permanent role at the end of the period.

Commonly cited returner benefits are:

  • being provided with coaching, training and mentoring support;
  • being given the opportunity to update their skills, knowledge and experience in a previous sector or role; and
  • being given the opportunity to transition into a new sector or role and gain new skills, knowledge and experience at a level that feels comparable to previous professional roles held before a career break.

The Government clearly believes in these benefits as it has recently committed £1.5m of funding for 'return to work' projects. This move is closely linked to the Government’s wider strategy to address the causes of the gender pay gap.

These programmes are becoming increasingly popular; Barclays has recently introduced one of these programmes; offering a 12 week paid programme with the opportunity of it turning into a permanent position at the end of that period. They detail within the programmes that they offer coaching and dedicated sponsors who will provide the framework and support for returners to thrive. It isn’t just the financial sector that is embarking programmes like this. Other large companies like O2 and the Government itself are adopting similar programmes.

A recent report by one major professional services company found that three in five professional women returning to work return to lower-skilled or lower-paid jobs following their career break. A company might therefore want to explore the benefits of a structured returnship programme as a means of addressing and closing the gender pay gap.

If you have any questions or would like further information on gender pay gap or how to implement a returnship please contact Kerri Constable or your normal RSM contact.