The Returnship: Could it benefit your business?

There’s a new term floating about in recruitment at the moment: “the returnship”. As the BBC puts it:

“Like an internship, a “returnship” is a placement at a company ranging from six weeks to six months. Where it differs is that returners come in at a paid, high level position following a minimum of two years out of the workplace.”

A returnship has been heralded a great solution for those who have taken significant time out from work for care-related reasons – whether that is raising children or caring for relatives, for example.

Yet those supporting the wider adoption of returnships suggest that the benefits are two-fold: for both the returners and businesses.

The Telegraph suggested “research has found that increasing the number of women in work by just five per cent could create £750m extra in tax revenue.” Whereas the BBC uses PwC research to suggest that the majority of women coming back to work after a care-related career break will be reducing their earnings by up to a third.

The benefits of returnships to employers

Indeed, returnships do offer a host of benefits to employers. Just to name a few:

  • A returner can plug senior skills gaps and compliment your existing team.
  • The right person will bring maturity, experience and commercial awareness.
  • Returnships give employers the opportunity to tap into a under-utilised pool of talent (again, the BBC reported the same PwC survey suggested that 29,000 women returning to work will be underemployed – not working as many hours as they would like to).
  • There is an opportunity for businesses to see if the fit is right with a returner, much like adopting a temp to perm approach to recruitment.

Approaching returnships in the right way for your business

Yet, as with every recruitment tactic, businesses need to make sure they are adopting the right approach for them. A few common features crop up when reading about successful returnship programmes:

  1. support;
  2. guidance;
  3. flexibility,
  4. and mentorship.

According to work psychologist, Portia Hickey in an interview with The Telegraph, many returners feel a sense of ‘self doubt’ when heading back into the workplace. With this in mind, a strong mentorship programme is a positive caveat of a returnship programme. Whether the mentor is employed within your business or works elsewhere, ensure they are in a position to provide advice and guidance specifically to someone who will be re-entering the world of work after a significant break.

Similarly, just as you wouldn’t expect an intern to know the ropes straight away, remember that returners are re-familiarising themselves with working life. Be prepared to provide returners with the training they require to up-skill – whether that is in skills specific to your industry (which may be new to them) or in updating them on the latest changes in processes or technology. Put in place a structured induction process but talk to those embarking on the returnship too: ask them where they feel they could do with a refresher and what would help them most.

Also keep in mind that someone returning to work will still have personal commitments outside of work – whether that’s juggling childcare or other care responsibilities. For many, a full-time position may not be feasible but part-time or flexi-time roles may be better. Keep this in mind when you are assessing your staff requirements: could a role be made part-time to suit a returner? Could a full-time role be split into a job share, ideal for those heading back into work? Or is it not really feasible for your company’s requirements right now?

Peterborough recruitment agency - Anne Corder

Essentially, it’s about making sure your organisation can align with the needs of returners. If it can, then you have the opportunity to attract and retain talented candidates looking to head back into work.

Talk to your recruitment agency

If you are ready to start recruiting returners or feel it’s something that you would consider in the near future, talk to your recruitment agency too. If you feel a role you’re recruiting for could be particularly well suited to someone re-entering his or her career, make a note to say so when instructing your recruitment agency. That way, they can act as your ambassador for roles that will suit a returner, helping you to find the highest quality candidates.

About the Author

Anne Corder

Anne Corder


Whilst still actively handling recruitment assignments, Anne specialises in Human Resources with many years of experience in that sector. She blogs on wider recruitment issues affecting both candidates and clients, commenting and offering tips and advice to help achieve the right outcomes.