It’s an employment conundrum. There are Long Island companies seeking qualified talent and a pool of candidates seeking the attention of a hiring manager, to no avail. For those who stepped off the career ladder and now want to reenter the workforce, that challenge can seem monumental. How would an employer find them?
This is where the “returnship” concept comes into play. Think of it as an internship for experienced professionals who have taken a career break for any number of reasons. Maybe they were caring for young children. Or maybe they were caring for a spouse or an elderly parent. By the time they are ready to reenter the workforce, hiring practices and other protocols may have changed, and their skill sets may be outdated, seemingtly putting them at a disadvantage.
But within the region, employers are investing in ways to connect with talent and boost skill sets. For example, through Path Forward, a New York-based nonprofit organization, these organizations can offer paid opportunities that can lead to good jobs. Employers in New York include JPMorgan Chase, PCAOB, LHH Recruitment Solutions, Northwell Health and others.
Northwell Health turned to Path Forward as a “workforce planning strategy,” said Maxine Carrington, a senior vice president at Northwell, where she serves as chief people officer. The health system is now embarking on its third year with Path Forward, which is providing a customizable model for creating a “path back” into the workforce. With Path Forward, Northwell was able to ramp up its returnship program without “building it from scratch,” Carrington said.
The strategy comes at a time of a 3% unemployment rate, according to the most recent numbers from the New York State Department of Labor.
As employers struggle to find talent and boost their workforce, the HIA-LI, Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency and Workforce Development Institute aim to enhance the region’s competitiveness and help grow the economy. In October, the organizations issued a 54-page report, “Innovating the Talent Pipeline: Strategies for Workforce Development in the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.” Training and career support were among the most important tools in meeting the region’s needs, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Northwell aims to find talent through its paid, 16-week returnship program. The program is designed for candidates with at least five years of experience with relevant skill sets.
To qualify, these candidates must have also taken at least two years out of the workforce to care for a loved one. The skills of a caregiver, Carrington said, whether for childcare or elder care, can “transfer into any role.”
Candidates must have the ability to commute to Long Island as some positions might be hybrid, while others might be fully in-person.
In its first year with Path Forward, the health system focused on adding to its administrative talent. But it has since expanded into recruiting for clinical roles. This year, for example, the health system is recruiting in the areas of administrative support, associate patient account and physician account representatives, human resources, and clinical areas, including nursing.
To help candidates succeed, the program offers integration into appropriate departments, mentorship connections, opportunities to meet healthcare leaders, and programs with skills refreshers and support.
This year, on the clinical side, Northwell is partnering with Molloy College, whose Division of Education and Professional Studies is offering an RN refresher program. This program is designed to provide inactive nurses with an update of both the theoretical content and clinical practice needed to return to employment in nursing. Successful candidates would be sourced from the Molloy program post-graduation and begin a 16-week returnship at Northwell. There is potential for enrollees to find permanent employment.
Here, Northwell is working with industry experts outside of its organization.
“We love partnerships at Northwell,” Carrington said. “This is what growth looks like.”
With Path Forward, employers can tailor programs as needed. For example, at JPMorgan Chase, there are 15-week opportunities in marketing, communications, compliance, strategy and risk management.
It’s one thing to advocate for career training and opportunities, and still another to ensure that potential candidates know about the programs.
The authors of the HIA-LI program, for example, recommend launching an island wide access-and-awareness campaign. It also recommended promoting mentee-mentor initiatives as well as branded learning programs as Pryor Business Training, Relias Academy and KnowledgeWave.
Organizations offering returnships are also building awareness. Northwell, for example, is active on TikTok and other social media, and advertises on pizza boxes.
For those returning to work, Carrington said, the results can be life-changing.
“Employment is such a huge determinant of health,” she said, adding that the returnship program is “making the household healthier, too, with employment.”
Since the initiative launched, Carrington said, she’s heard returners say “if it were not for this program, I would have had a difficult time getting back in” to the workforce.
Listening to those stories, she said, “you get goosebumps.”