A path for reentering the workforce

HOLLY PELCZYNSKI - BENNINGTON BANNER Wesley Kempton walks job seeker Lisa Mandela through work life balance and what is most important when searching for the right job Tuesday morning at the Bennington Resource Center in Bennington during a workshop called New-Fashioned Employment: Re-Imagining Work.

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BENNINGTON — Internship?

Returnship.

The Vermont Department of Labor and the nonprofit Associates for Training and Development (A4TD) have partnered in developing a new option for on-the-job work experience for job seekers, known as the Vermont Returnship Program.

A returnship is a limited-duration on-the-job work experience, similar to an internship, designed specifically for adults with previous experience in the workplace who have taken time away from their careers and seek to reenter the workforce.

The program, which officially launched the last week of February, facilitates employment opportunities for Vermonters who are looking for work, or who have dropped out of the workforce for one reason or another, said Wesley Kempton, project coordinator of the Vermont Returnship Program at A4TD, of the program.

"It's incredibly beneficial to the state because this is a resource that is going to benefit those Vermonters who are eager to work but are not actually in the workforce," he said. "The Vermont workforce, which has so many open jobs and [is] just thirsting for employees — this is an opportunity to bring some enthusiastic and skilled workers back to fill some of those vacancies."

In an effort to bring options like this to the public's attention, Kempton led a workshop at the Bennington Resource Center Tuesday for job-seekers, including information about the returnship program. Kempton spoke about nontraditional work options, such as part-time, flex-time, job sharing, seasonal positions — and returnships.

"Think of the returnship program as another resource that can help," Kempton told the workshop's sole attendee, Lisa Mandela of Bennington.

Mandela attended the workshop to find out more about the returnship program, and whether it might be a good fit for her — she said she thinks it would be.

She's interested in data entry and library work, and has also worked in retail.

The returnship program aims to address the shrinking of the state's workforce by bringing people back into the workforce and retaining others who would otherwise retire. Participants receive assessments, job coaching and workshops to help them identify and apply for jobs that they're passionate about, according to a press release from the Department of Labor announcing the program's launch. Participants will then be matched with employers seeking talent in a returnship opportunity which A4TD will help the employer develop.

A returnship is different than other on-the-job training opportunities, Kempton said.

Other opportunities are typically facilitated by the business itself, and often just provide training, not employment, Kempton said.

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But with a returnship, expectations are established from the beginning. And ideally, the person is retained as an employee, he said.

The returnship program is also unique in that there are no age or income requirements — the applicant must only be a Vermont resident, Kempton said.

"There are a lot of programs that help you, but only if you earn below a certain amount, or you're over a certain age," he said. "[It's a way] to help so many more Vermonters."

The program is also not confined to any particular industries.

"We quite thoroughly try to get a feel for what kind of work the participant is eager to acquire," Kempton said. "We're trying to help people get work, and trying to help employers get people."

Over 50 people have applied for the program thus far, and they are currently in the job placement phase, Kempton said.

Most of the people who have applied to the returnship program are 40 or older, he said.

The A4TD administers the program, acting like a matchmaker between participants and businesses, Kempton said.

Returnship wages, if any, are paid by the employer, and hours, wages and duration of returnships vary.

This program also provides opportunities for those who are currently in the workforce, but are looking for a career change to stay in the workforce.

The program is funded by the Vermont Department of Labor.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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