For seven years, John Bortscheller embraced his new “dad career.”
Bortscheller, 45, left his job as a corporate account manager to take care of his two sons, who are now 6 and 8 years old.
When his youngest son started full-day kindergarten in the fall of 2015, he began to seriously consider returning to work.
Though he’d worked some part-time jobs and volunteered, his seven-year career hiatus felt like a huge hole in his resume.
An Internship Program for Adults
Bortscheller discovered a new program for people just like him: moms and dads who took time off from the working world to take care of their children.
After a five-month paid internship, Bortscheller was hired on full time at ReadyTalk, an audio and web conferencing technology company in Denver.
ReadyTalk offered the internship with help from Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that partners with companies to create mid-career internship programs to ease the transition back to work for stay-at-home moms and dads.
“If you perform well, this innovative program just helped you overcome a career gap that may have seemed insurmountable — and it sure felt that way to me at times,” Bortscheller said.
“If you don’t perform as well as needed, this program still helps you to begin to overcome the career gap by polishing up your career and interviewing skills, expanding your professional network, introducing you to other partner firms in the program and overall boosting your confidence.”
The idea for a back-to-work internship program was born two years ago at Return Path, a data-solutions company with 12 offices around the world and more than 500 employees.
After several successful cohorts, and buy-in from other companies like PayPal, SendGrid, ReadyTalk, Moz and MWH, the program’s founders decided to spin it off into a nonprofit.
How an Internship Through Path Forward Works
Path Forward gives companies the tools to set up their own, in-house internship programs for moms and dads, and supports participants to make their experiences successful. So far, the program is underway in New York, California and Colorado.
The organization helps companies draft language to post on their own job websites. Candidates apply and go through a standard interview process, like they would with any job.
Each internship lasts 20 weeks, though companies can decide if they want interns to work full time, part time or a mix.
Participating companies generally pay between $20 and $25 an hour, with the expectation they will offer a competitive salary if an intern is hired on full time.
Overcoming the Challenges of Returning to Work
Tami Forman, executive director for Path Forward, said stay-at-home moms and dads face an uphill battle when they decide to return to the workforce.
For starters, they have a years-long gap on their resume, which can make hiring managers weary.
Some may have been in jobs that no longer exist, or they may want to try out a new career but they don’t have any experience, Forman said.
There’s also a stigma around taking time off from a burgeoning career for child care.
“We do still have a mindset as a society that your career is meant to be a death march from college graduation to retirement and I don’t know why,” Forman said.
“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that’s not the most interesting way to build a career or even the most successful way to build a career. It’s a hard thing to get over.”
Forman said she can sympathize with hiring managers who may be hesitant to take a chance on someone who’s been out of the workforce for a while.
That’s why the internship works — it’s a small commitment, both for the company and for the employee.
“It de-risks that scenario,” she said. “It allows the company and the hiring manager to say ‘Let’s give this person a chance.’”
It also gives moms and dads a chance to experiment with jumping back into the working world and, potentially, with a new career path.
Several of the program’s participants realized at the end of the internship program that going back to work wasn’t the right fit for their family, and Forman says that’s OK, too.
“The benefit to the participant is they get an opportunity to see how coming back to work feels for them,” Forman said.
Another bonus is that companies have a pool of “professionally mature” employees to choose from. Stay-at-home moms and dads are patient, they have good time-management skills and, Forman joked, they are expert negotiators.
“Anyone who has talked a toddler off a ledge of ‘I want this now,’ … that’s kidnapper-level negotiation skills,” she said, laughing.
Is a Return-to-Work Internship Right for You?
The organization also tries to create a feeling of camaraderie among program participants who are working in the same geographical region.
For former stay-at-home dad Bortscheller, that networking was invaluable.
“The program also introduced me to other interns of similar backgrounds and their sponsor companies – cool, progressive organizations that I may not have stood a chance at gaining even a phone interview, given my long career gap,” he said.
For Jenni Lillie, who took time off to raise her now-11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son, the internship was a confidence-booster.
After completing the program at Return Path, Lillie, 42, accepted a full-time role as a brand designer. The outcome was a win for everybody in her family.
“I learned that I wasn’t as behind in my technical skills as I thought I was,” Lillie said.
“My kids have gained a little more independence as a result of me going back to work and not being at home as much. Working with a creative team again has been really fun and fulfilling.”
Your Turn: Have you completed a return-to-work program? Would you try this type of internship?
Sarah Kuta is an education reporter in Boulder, Colorado, with a penchant for weekend thrifting, furniture refurbishment and good deals. Find her on Twitter: @sarahkuta.