‘Returnships’ and Other Job Search Strategies During the Pandemic

Author: Michelle Russell       


Return-to-work programs — returnships — were intended to recruit and reskill people who haven’t been working for several years. In light of the COVID-19 employment crisis, these programs could shorten that unemployment timeframe.

Last month, we asked the question “Will Women Recoup Their Job Losses in 2021?” As we’ve written over the last year, the COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women in the workplace. The U.S. economy has shed 5.4 million women’s jobs since February 2020 — 55 percent of U.S. jobs lost during that period.

Since COVID-19 started closing schools and day-care centers, almost 2.1 million women have left the labor force entirely, which means that they aren’t even looking for work. In January, women accounted for nearly 80 percent of the 346,000 adults who dropped out of the U.S. labor force — and women of color are unemployed at more than 1.5 times the rate of white women and men.

In this female economic crisis, one way to stem the tide, according to a Fortune article, is “returnships.” It’s not a new concept: Goldman Sachs trademarked the term nearly 13 years ago. These return-to-work programs are intended to recruit and reskill people who haven’t been working for several years, and specifically, whose technical knowhow may need updating. Considering the employment fallout due to COVID, many of these programs are shortening the period of unemployment requirement to match the pandemic timeframe.

In the article, Tami Forman, whose five-year-old nonprofit Path Forward helps employers establish these programs, said that they give participants several months of paid one-the-job training at organizations who then have the option to hire them as full-time employees. Forman said that 2020 was, not surprisingly, a less-than-stellar year for returnships since companies weren’t hiring overall. But she is now seeing a bit more interest from large employers in some industries, and not others. “We’re not doing much in the travel industry,” Forman told Fortune, “at any level.”

And if LinkedIn is any indication — a quick Google search for “returnships 2021” produced only 445 returnship jobs in the U.S. posted on LinkedIn — there aren’t a lot of these opportunities across all industries to go around.

In the meantime, for those who are looking to return to work during the pandemic, Fast Company offers several tips, including continuing to network virtually. In the latest PCMA Convene Dashboard survey, approximately one out of 10 planners and suppliers who joined an online community group to help them navigate the pandemic did so to help them job search.

Another piece of advice: Polish up your LinkedIn profile by focusing on your top five skills, and adjust your profile settings to “Share with recruiters.”

Finally, Fast Company writes, if you’re keen on a prospective company, do your homework. Research its reputation on websites such as Glassdoor and Fairygodboss. And even though it’s a tight labor market, make sure that the organizations you are considering that are in hiring mode align with your values. “Times are tough right now,” according to the article, “so turning down a job opportunity may be too hard to stomach. But it’s still good to be aware of any potential issues that may arise once you begin work.”

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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