After being a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, Kirsten Cheney wanted to pick up her career as a graphic designer. The 46-year-old divorced mother of four returned to Vermont from Boston after reconnecting with a fellow designer who was running his own studio in Burlington.
She got a "returnship" with her friend—an internship-like program for experienced people who have been out of the labor force for some time.
"I met with him and suggested the returnship and started at his studio in 2009," Cheney said. "I would go in a few times a week, and he had me working on basic design tasks—which was great since over the last 10 years much of the technology end of the business had evolved and I needed to catch up."
She didn't intend to get a full-time job there and got no pay but "it did update my work experience and help me build connections in the Burlington area," said Cheney, who now has her own freelance business, Swannery Design.
"If you can swing it, I would highly recommend a returnship for anyone trying to get back into the workforce," she said.
Cheney's returnship is a variation on intern or "extern" programs that companies of all sizes are using to bring people who have been out of the workplace for a while back in, even if temporarily.
"Employers have told us that they've been moving to a model where the contract consultant is a permanent part of their workforce," said Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of IRelaunch, which runs career re-entry programs.
"Returnships are part of this new way of work opportunities," she added.
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But not everyone sees them as a first choice.
Returnships raise concerns about pay and labeling, said Allison O'Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, a career development firm.
"Consideration for a returnship should be after many other avenues have been exhausted," she said. "You don't want a company's clever marketing-speak to follow you career-wise."