Returnships for Caregivers Going Back to Work #128


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Tami M. Forman is the Executive Director of Path Forward, a non-profit organization that creates mid-career returnship programs to ease the transition back to work for people who have taken a career break for caregiving. Path Forward trains HR teams and hiring managers on how to support these programs successfully and provide support to participants to make the experience successful. Tami is building this organization from the ground up, working with donors, partners, and participants to fulfill the organization’s mission. Tami spent a decade as a marketing executive with Return Path. Tami has previously held editorial positions at Simon and Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, iVillage, and News Corporation.

Key Takeaways:

[1:38] Marc welcomes you to Episode 128 of the Repurpose Your Career podcast. Career Pivot this podcast to you; is one of the very few websites dedicated to those of us in the second half of life and our careers. Take a moment to check out the blog and the other resources delivered to you, free of charge.

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[2:27] Next week, Marc will read a new chapter from the third edition of Repurpose Your Career.) Marc has released two chapters to the Repurpose Your Career review team. If you’d like to be part of that team, please go to and you’ll receive new chapters as they become available.

[2:51] Marc currently plans to release the book in mid-to-late September with both a virtual and a real book tour. He will be in Austin, NYC Metro Area, and D.C. during the months of September and October. Marc would love to meet his readers and listeners.

[3:10] Reach out to Marc at if you’d be willing to give him some advice on setting up this tour. This includes venues if you’re from those areas. Marc would very much appreciate it.

[3:27] This week, Marc is interviewing Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward. Marc introduces Tami with her bio.

[4:27] Marc welcomes Tami to the Repurpose Your Career podcast.

[4:44] Marc learned about returnships from Dan Corbin who was at Return Path at the same time as Tami. Marc invites Tami to talk about the origin and mission of Path Forward.

[5:10] Path Forward is a nonprofit organization on a mission to help people who have taken time out of their career for caregiving to restart those careers. Most of the clients are women, but the programs are open to men and women who have taken chunks of time away from the paid workforce to care for children or elderly parents.

[5:43] This concept started within Return Path, a privately-held software company based in New York City, with offices in Colorado, Austin, Texas, Indianapolis, and globally. The head of HR was working to help women in technology and doing unconscious bias training. She ran into resistance hiring women who had taken a career break.

[6:43] The VP of HR realized that if she couldn’t influence the behavior of managers in her own company, there was a systemic problem. She worked with some people to put together a returnship, meaning a temporary assignment aimed at someone in mid-career.

[7:09] The program was phenomenally successfully for the six people in the program and for the managers. Other companies noticed and reached out to VP of HR Cathy Hawley and CEO Matt Blumberg to learn how to run the program in their offices.

[7:38] Matt decided to found a nonprofit and try to make a bigger impact by bringing it to many more companies.

[7:48] Marc sees men and women taking time off to take care of elderly adult parents. Tami sees a lot of women with the “double whammy,” who took a few years off to take care of their children and then their mother or father got sick and needed care. Many women have filled both roles. She has also seen stay-at-home dads.

[8:42] Childcare takes longer than elderly parent care, usually, so mothers raising children are out of the workforce longer. The longer the time out of the workforce, the longer it takes to get back into it. People taking a few years off for elder care have less difficulty getting a job. The age range of participants in the program is large.

[9:57] Marc has a man in his online community who got laid off, took care of a parent, and now is being asked what he did for 18 months. “Taking care of Mom” is not very well received at the tech startups he is trying to penetrate.

[10:17] How is a returnship different from an apprenticeship? The DOL has a specific definition to meet guidelines for a registered apprenticeship, but employers may use it less formally. Tami advises to anyone looking into any “ship” program is to get a strict understanding of what the program offers.

[11:16] Tami considers a returnship to differ from an apprenticeship mainly in the amount of training supplied. Tami notes the Microsoft LEAP program which has a training component alongside a work project component as a “classic” apprenticeship. A returnship is about just the work.

[12:03] People coming into a returnship have either directly applicable or transferrable experience they can put to work within the context of the returnship. They may need mentoring and would receive new-employee training. They have the basic skills.

[12:45] Some of the companies Path Forward works with do have a training component as part of their returnship because they want to expand the types of people they are able to bring into the program.

[13:01] Tami says during the interview process is the time to make sure you understand exactly what training and development the program offers and what the expectations are of you.

[13:20] Marc notes that tech sector jobs would provide some training because of rapid change in the industry. Tami says that tech companies are having trouble finding people to maintain legacy tech stacks. Younger people don’t know how to do it or don’t want to.

[13:50] Tami has worked with companies that have proprietary software where every engineer would have to be trained to work with it.

[14:17] Understanding what the expectations are is very important. Tami is aware of organizations and programs, such as a boot camp or an online course, available to teach specific skills to people returning to the workplace. The training alone would not be enough to get you a job, so the returnship work piece makes the difference.

[14:52] Kids don’t want to learn COBOL or Fortran.

[15:07] Besides tech skills, returnships can work for any company hiring for any professional job. Path Forward has had the most success in partnering with tech companies in Northern California, New York, Denver, and LA. Technology has an acknowledged gender-balance problem alongside a talent problem.

[16:08] The gender-balance issue, combined with the overall scarcity of talent, are the factors that lead to the success of returnship programs at tech firms. People out of the workforce are an untapped pool. Other industries may have gender-balance problems but no shortage of talent. They don’t feel the same pressure to bring in more people.

[17:36] Tami’s advice to people looking for opportunities, in general, is to go where “the people aren’t.” Go where the jobs are plentiful and the people seem to be less so.

[17:46] The ideal candidate for a returnship will have a background that matches what the job is. Someone who’s making a big career change will not typically be as successful. If you are making a career change, first get a lot of advice from people in the new career. Take a course. Take a consulting position. Accept a lower position.

[19:36] If you worked in marketing, do a returnship in marketing. If you worked in engineering, do a returnship in engineering. That’s where the 16-week boost, getting you back in the seat, with a manager who can see what you can do, is really successful.

[19:55] Tami sees that people who have a certain degree of resentment about the sacrifice that they’ve made and have ego issues about salary or position have a more difficult time than people who are open and have humility about them. It is better to be excited to be back and accept the opportunity after spending the time with family.

[21:04] Marc recalls last week’s episode with Andrew Scott on the 100-Year Life and their conversation about mindset in If you don’t have the proper mindset you will not be successful.

[21:43] Tami shares a case study of Marina, in her mid-40s who made a career pivot from selling CDs by direct marketing at BMG Music. That world has gone away. However, her marketing skills were very transferable to different markets and channels.

[22:58] Marina got a returnship in marketing at Return Path and ultimately landed on marketing analytics, where she still works, three years later. She also took the Hubspot digital marketing course to do her own reskilling. There are a lot of vendors in various industries who make free training available to increase their potential talent pool.

[24:22] Tami shares Lisa’s story who was an engineer at IBM and had last coded using COBOL and Fortran. She had an EE degree, not a CS degree, because that wasn’t expected when she was studying. She had taken some software courses. Then she was out of the workforce for 20 years.

[25:14] Lisa wanted to get her Master’s degree, but her college-age son told her that wasn’t how it’s done anymore. He recommended she take a couple of classes and go work for someone who would let her learn on the job. She got a returnship at Return Path as an engineer. She is still there and was promoted to a team lead position.

[25:52] Besides her technical skills, they recognized her leadership and organizational skills she used as a stay-at-home mom for 20 years. She could inspire a team and get things done.

[26:45] Marc spoke a couple of years ago at an Austin Community College coding boot camp. He explained that a lot of the plumbing has changed, but none of the concepts has. You can learn how to replumb things and use new tools. Sometimes you have to spend your own time and your own dollars to get trained. Look online.

[27:30] Always be learning. You can work for 20 years in one job and get laid off when your job is not relevant. Constantly be in a mode of learning and staying relevant.

[28:47] After the dotcom bust companies slowly stopped spending money on training their employees. It’s up to the individual to find their own training and stay up to date.

[29:03] Managers making hiring decisions are very risk-averse. The returnship concept gives them permission to take a chance and not get in trouble. Companies working with Path Forward know the executives have sanctioned the program.

[29:44] For listeners in cities without Path Forward returnships, think about ways you can do work for someone so they can see what you can do, in a way that lowers the risk for them. That might be freelancing, pro bono work, or volunteering. Build a website for a community group that’s doing something interesting. Showcase your real skills.

[30:36] Networking is crucial. One way to network is to do work with someone. Another is to take classes with others. Get out from behind the computer and into the world. Find ways to work with people. That’s Tami’s last advice to listeners.

[32:02] To learn more, sign up for the newsletter at for news about every partner they sign. There is a page of other returnships at companies not working with Path Forward at There is also a Facebook page at and Twitter at @PathFWD.

[33:21] Marc thanks Tami and hopes you enjoyed this episode. You might call this a movement of creating programs that help people reenter the workforce after a career break. Marc invites you to go back and listen to Episode 80 with Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO of iRelaunch found at

[33:59] Marc is working on setting up an interview with one or both of the people Tami mentioned in the interview. You will find links mentioned in this episode at

[34:17] The Career Pivot Community website has become a valuable resource for 50 members who are participating in the Beta phase of this project. Marc is recruiting new members for the next cohort.

[34:29] If you are interested in the endeavor and would like to be put on the waiting list, please go to When you sign up you’ll receive information about the community as it evolves. Marc will be spreading out new cohorts as the community starts some new projects.

[34:51] Those who are in these initial cohorts set the direction of this endeavor. This is a paid membership community with group coaching and special content. More importantly, it’s a community where you can seek help. Go to to learn more. They are now starting a writers’ group.

[35:35] Marc invites you to connect with him on Just include in the connection request that you heard Marc on this podcast. You can look for Career Pivot on Facebook, LinkedIn, or @CareerPivot on Twitter.

[35:59] Please come back next week, when Marc will read a new chapter from the third edition of Repurpose Your Career.

[36:09] Marc thanks you for listening to the Repurpose Your Career podcast.

[38:51] You will find the show notes for this episode at

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