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“Returnships”

For women who’ve decided to step away from their professions for a few years while caring for young children or elderly parents — but don’t want to lose ground when they do return to the workforce — figuring out an appropriate strategy can be tricky.

Enter “returnships.” Similar in concept to career internships for high school or college students, returnships for professionals offer a way to make the on-ramp easier for women who’ve been at home. At food giant Sara Lee, the program is designed “to provide opportunities for mid-career individuals re-entering the workforce after having been away for a number of years.” What makes it work? Flexible, challenging assignments that recognize the conventional 9 – 5 approach may no longer be feasible.

Now the Jewish community is getting on board too. Recently the Jewish Communal Service Association Networking Parents Group sponsored a conference call about returnships, specifically in the Jewish world.

“When I do re-enter the field, it shouldn’t be ‘Who are you and what do you do?’” said Ann Luban, founding co-chair of the group, launched in 2003. A social worker and mother, Luban was eager to develop a program to help other women in similar circumstances. “I was looking to retain my professional connection,” she said. “I’m committed to Jewish communal service.”

“JCCs are a great place to return to the field, because they’re always looking for part-time people,” said Lynne Kanner, the group’s current chair, who works 10 hours a week.

Leslie Rosen Stern, a social worker now doing admissions work at her local Solomon Schechter school, describes returnships as “a win-win for the agencies and the professionals. The agencies gain highly trained professionals who know how to run a program or a budget, and the individuals find ways to engage.” In an e-mail message, Stern added, “Jewish organizations reap the benefits of experienced Jewish communal professionals, while also opening themselves up to a ‘mutual testing of the waters’ for the employer and the employee.”