How A Returnship Got This Mom Back in the Workforce - GMA
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How A Returnship Got This Mom Back in the Workforce - GMA

Deborah Chin had the same thought many moms do when she had her first child, a daughter, three years ago and took time off.

"I think the way I put it was simply, 'I’m going to take a year off and then be back,'" Chin, of Oakland, California, told "Good Morning America." "I wasn’t thinking at all about how difficult it may be to get back into the workforce."

As she started to think about returning to work full-time, reality struck for Chin, as it does for so many moms.

"I had a lot of my own anxiety, and besides the challenges of actually looking for the work, I was kind of blindsided by the reality of finding childcare," recalled Chin, a graphic designer. "It was just a complete unknown of how to handle looking for someone else to do that job while I was going to look for employment."

While Chin was struggling for a way to return, she heard from another mom about Path Forward. The New York-based non-profit matches companies with potential employees through returnships, a weeks or months-long paid internship for adults who have taken time away from their careers and want to re-enter the workforce.

Chin was eventually selected for a 16-week returnship at Walmart, in the company's San Bruno office.

A lot of women struggle with the decision to start a family and take time off because of the backlash they know will happen

"Everyone knew that I was a mom and I had taken a break, not that that was going to precede me, but it was nice knowing that that was part of the deal, so to speak," she said. "At the same time, a lot of people had no idea I was in this program or even what the program was."

Chin was hired at the end of her returnship to stay on with Walmart full-time. She said in her experience, not enough people, particularly moms, know about returnships.

"A lot of women struggle with the decision to start a family and take time off because of the backlash they know will happen," she added. "The more these opportunities are made available and the more people are aware, hopefully that will help quell the fear women have."

Returnships keep growing

The term "returnship" was trademarked by Goldman Sachs in 2008 and was first created as a way to get people, especially mothers, back in the workplace.

"Wall Street is a leader in career re-entry programming because the companies are so old," said Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and co-founder of iRelaunch. "They have experienced generation after generation of employees moving through life stages and women leaving at every stage."

A sense of urgency developed.

"A sense of urgency developed," said Cohen, who gave a viral TED Talk about being a "40-year-old intern."

The benefit of a returnship for women is they can get more up-to-date experience on their resume, hone their skills and dip their toes back into working. The benefit for the companies is they can reach back into the talent pool of people that left without committing to them for a full-time position.

At Path Forward, 95% of the workers have a bachelor's degree or higher and, on average, they have 11 years of prior work experience, according to the company's executive director Tami Forman.

"I think company executives are finally getting their brain wrapped around it," said Forman about the talent they leave behind.

Returnships have since expanded beyond finance to more industries and newer companies, like Facebook, which has a "Return to Work" program. Walmart, where Chin landed, recently announced plans to triple the number of slots in its four-month, paid returnship program and expand it to more states.

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