AARP Eye Center
After 25 years in Washington, D.C., working in information technology, Jennifer O'Dowd decided to take time off and relocate to Dublin, Ireland, for her husband's new job. A planned one-year break stretched to almost two, after which, she says, “I was ready to get back to work.” So O'Dowd applied for a “returnship” with Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
Essentially, returnships are full-time paid internships for adults who have been out of the workforce for at least a couple of years. O'Dowd accepted a role in AWS’ eight-week Returners program in 2019. She became a full-time company employee last August.
Was it tough? Yes, O'Dowd says, “in the sense that you have to get real about where you are and where you want to be.” But in the AWS returnship, she says, she had “a support network I could connect to when I needed it, and I learned quickly that I was just like any other new starter in AWS.”
No list exists of all the returnship programs that are available, but Carol Fishman Cohen, chair and cofounder of the career-reentry firm iRelaunch, estimates that “the number is getting near 100.” In fact, iRelaunch works with 70 global companies that have such programs.
Several of the highest-profile organizations in the country have returnships, whether it's AWS’ Returners, LEAP at Microsoft, REACH at LinkedIn or Recharge at PayPal. (All four of these companies, by the way, participate in AARP's Employer Pledge program, in which businesses commit to the value of experienced employees and diversity in the workplace.)
No two returnship programs are exactly alike. Many are focused on company needs, looking for people with highly valuable skills — programmers, engineers and financial managers — who have been out of the workforce for a while. But other returnships, like REACH, are theoretically open to anyone. ("The only real requirement,” says REACH alum Yeni Bermudez Padron, “is that you are passionate about coding and that you are able to showcase that passion.") Some are eight to 16 weeks long; others last from one to five years, depending on the expertise level of the entrants. In most programs, graduates can land a full-time job with the company.