Moms in the technical field who take time off from work might think their chances of re-entering the workforce are slim. However, private companies are offering “returnships” for parents who’ve left work to raise children, and the public sector could use these programs as well.

Companies such as GoDaddy, Instacart, IBM, General Motors, Paypal, and Demandbase have incorporated or are starting return-to-work internships geared toward adults who’ve had to leave work to become the primary caregiver of a child. By leveraging the resources of career re-entry companies such as Path Forward and iRelaunch, government agencies have the opportunity to use this idea to fill the gap in their information technology workforce.

Companies and agencies can also use returnships to recruit more female employees to the technology sector even though return-to-work programs are open to both male and female participants.

“By default you are dealing with a population that is mostly female,” said Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of iRelaunch.

Cohen said that government agencies could start a return-to-work program the same way that large companies like IBM and General Motors do, which is to start with a small group of hires in the same geographical location.

IBM hired six data scientists in April through returnships and hired all of them to continue working for the company. This month, IBM will continue the program in more locations with more people, according to Cohen.

“We think that the government could pilot the program in a similar way,” Cohen said.

The government should also begin return-to-work programs with managers that are good mentors, can spot unique talent, and have more imagination, according to Tami Forman, executive director of Path Forward.

“Start with managers that have an open-mindedness to the idea,” Forman said.

That way these managers will work to get to know the employees participating in the program and have a better chance of hiring them to work longer for the agency.

Agencies should take existing open positions or programs and earmark them for returnships, according to Steven Aldrich, chief product officer and sponsor of the Path Forward program at GoDaddy.

In one case, the Navy ran a two-year rotational program in the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, which was geared toward typical college-aged interns. However, a few years ago, a person looking to re-enter the workforce applied and was accepted, according to Cohen.

“A way the government could tiptoe into return-to-work programs is to open up their existing internships to nontraditional applicants,” Cohen said.

The technology field is the perfect venue for returnships because of the constantly evolving nature of the work.

“The pace of tech is really hard to stay on top of,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich said this discourages some employees from re-entering the workforce, but a concerted internship program can get people up to speed that still have the talent and the people skills to work in the technology sector.

“At a fundamental level, things don’t change as fast as we think they do,” Forman said. “Government does not seem to change as quickly, so programs like these are great.”

Forman said the private sector tends to innovate even quicker than the public sector, so Federal agencies wouldn’t have to catch up new hires as much. Also, companies retrain every new employee on the specific systems and programs that they use, so a teaching period is to be expected of everyone.

“We believe that a caregiver’s gap in employment should not hinder their job search,” said Udi Nir, vice president of engineering at Instacart. “Potential returnees should be as qualified as any other candidate, but we should keep in mind that thorough onboarding to today’s technology and processes is imperative to their success.”

Return-to-work programs are competitive; therefore the people who find the most success are those who’ve taken courses on their own to get themselves back up to speed in their fields. Women who are likely to get hired are already credentialed, have some work experience, and have re-engaged with skills or newly acquired skills that they’ll need at the job they’re aiming for, according to Cohen.

Aldrich said the government should show support for employees at all points in their careers by offering a broad set of programs for them to stay engaged. Returnships could be one of these programs.

“The government could say, ‘not only are we interested in you, but we’re creating a formal way back in,’ ” Cohen said.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.