This article by Karen Horting was first published by Forbes. Horting is Executive Director and CEO at the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) overseeing global initiatives in support of women in engineering and tech.
There is a huge pool of talent full of those who have taken a career break to care for a child or an elderly loved one, or for another personal reason, and these individuals are viable candidates for job openings. Deemed “relaunchers,” these women and men have gaps on their resumes and may be slightly out of touch with advances in technology and industry evolution, but their core cognitive aptitudes and fundamental skill sets remain intact.
Why the resistance to hiring these candidates? There seems to be a perceived high-risk proposition to hiring candidates with gaps on their resume. Relaunchers are often unqualified technically, and employers may not have time to get them up to speed. Often, employers don’t even bother looking at resumes with employment gaps on them. Additionally, relaunchers may feel out of touch with the business world, or their interests may have changed or evolved over time, creating hesitation to aggressively pursue certain jobs.
Alas, these candidates have traditionally experienced a high roadblock to career re-entry, regardless of whether or not supplemental skills were gained during the gap. A study by the Center for Talent Innovation, for example, found that 93% of off-ramped women wanted to return to their careers full-time; however, only 40% did so successfully.
A Solution Found In “Returnships”
Identifying the opportunity that relaunchers present and creating a solution to their unique situation, organizations have been experimenting with “returnships” — internships for adults returning to work after career breaks. This model has proven particularly successful in the financial services industry, and now the STEM industry is taking note.
Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the organization for which I serve as executive director, tapped into our nonprofit corporate partnerships to float the idea of returnships at STEM organizations. As a nonprofit representative of women in STEM, we are in a prime position to facilitate these relationships to reach a mutually beneficial solution. We have a unique role because of our relationship with our members, and we understand the struggle faced by women returning to the engineering workplace, particularly the gaps on their resumes that are holding them back from getting their careers going again. But also, we understand that there is a demand for talent in these positions and that they can successfully fulfill these roles.
Identifying the opportunity for a program that addresses this is a natural progression in our membership services. So, we partnered with career re-entry firm iRelaunch to ensure the returnships were executed correctly and that both sides of the table — employer and employee — were getting value. We deemed the program the STEM Re-Entry Task Force, and organizations that came on board to pilot internship programs in 2016 included engineering and technology giants.
Creating Value For Participants On Both Sides
Dipping into the hidden talent pool of relaunchers has created a shift in human resources’ protocol for hiring. Returnships have proven to be beneficial, allowing the employer to base their hiring decision on actual work samples rather than interviews. For re-entry interns, the programs provide professional development experiences, technical and mentoring resources, and a cohort structure for support during the transition.
Using corporate partnerships to bring returnships to life in the engineering industry proved to be essential. Organizations look to nonprofit partners for consultation. Nonprofits represent the members’ voice, and we are able to leverage that to inform corporate partners on how they can better create and maintain a diverse workforce.
When developing a program, progressive communication is key. Open up the conversation to not just how your corporate partners can help you, but how you can help them. What gaps exist in terms of serving their audiences? What synergies can we find within our own membership to serve those gaps? And what programs can we create that are new, unique and impactful?
Prior to execution, it is important to establish that all parties are “all in.” Everyone must do their part to make a new program successful, especially when there are varying talents represented throughout the process.
In planning to execute a returnship program with the Society of Women Engineers’ partners, we made sure to establish key roles. Corporate organizations were responsible for making sure the programs were successful internally — getting buy-in from leadership and especially the hiring managers, raising excitement throughout the organization and inserting these programs into their primary recruiting strategies. The society served a key role in making sure the benefits of the program came across to potential candidates and that our efforts served a purpose and effectively addressed a gap.
In 2018, we are entering our third round of the program with even more organizations on board, and we are continuing the momentum to bridge the gap between career break and relaunch. As we see this type of program continue to benefit the engineering industry, on both the employee and employer side, we hope to also see the gender gap in engineering close.
Partnering with a nonprofit organization has benefits beyond recognition. Tapping into its resources and really listening to what members need to be successful can open the door to new opportunities to build, evolve or expand your workforce by thinking outside the box when it comes to recruitment of diverse talent.