Returnship programmes, which give experienced professionals a chance to return to the workplace after a career break, have gained much momentum in the last year-and-a-half owing to the disruption in way we work. Yet, only 2% of women, who left the workforce over the last five years have benefited from such programmes and successfully re-joined the workforce, a new study released by management consultancy Zinnov today has found. And while there is an increase in number of such programmes in India, only 40% of organisations surveyed have adapted these to the virtual medium due to the pandemic.
For the survey, Returnship Programs in India, Zinnov spoke to over 40 multinational and Indian organisations with returnship programmes about the effectiveness of their programme and the challenges. It found that over 1,00,000 women have quit the workforce for various reasons since 2016.
Returnship programmes are short-term training programs, like internships, for experienced individuals, mostly women, who have taken a break from their corporate career. These programmes help upskill them, and enables them to integrate into the current workplace.
“The biggest surprise for us was the numbers (referring to the 2%). Every time organisations talk about such programmes they portray it as the biggest initiatives they are running as part of inclusion and diversity. But at the end of the day, you are only absorbing 10-15 people on a year-on-year basis,” said Nivedita Nanjappa, head of inclusion and diversity practice, Zinnov.
With the high demand for experienced talent right now, more mature organisations are relaxing the eligibility criteria and increasing the cohort size, the study observed. Earlier, small cohorts of 10-15 individuals would be inducted to the programme. The prior experience of participants has been reduced from 36 months for mid and senior level roles, which was a prerequisite for 60% organisations. As for continuous career break, an average gap of 16 months was preferred, although some organisations took in participants with a break of over 24 months. As for the training provided, only 17% of the companies ran role-based cohorts.
While all organisations provide a stipend or compensation during the programme, only a few extended facilities and non-monetary benefits like health insurance and paid time-off. As for training, about 70% of organisations provided on-the-job and technical training, which helped the programme participants to grasp the required skillsets of a job much faster, while 80% companies put the participants through behavioural training to boost their confidence to return to work after a break.
Some of the challenges include getting complete commitment from the leadership team, an unwillingness to hire such candidates for key roles, and allocating adequate budgets and planning infrastructure for the programme. Finding these experienced candidates is another common challenge that organisations face.
Due to unpredictability in demand for talent, some organsiations find it difficult to run the programme consistently and managers are unsure what to expect from such candidates. The programmes also suffered from a lack of a clear curriculum to ensure that candidates gain from them. The study suggests that organisations pay attention to these challenges before starting their returnship programmes.
In spite of these challenges, the study found that 60-80% candidates do secure full time offers from the organisations. The conversation ratio of candidates getting absorbed as employees going up to 90% in organisations, which have been able to scale up and improve the design of the program over five to six years.
Instead of looking at it as merely a D&I initiative, Nanjappa said organisations need to look at the potential of such programmes becoming a mainstream hiring channel. “We are hoping this survey helps organisations realise that such programmes aren't just about bringing women back to the workplace and that leaders understand the real value and align such programmes to their business requirements.”
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