T-Mobile Expands Successful Returnship Program for Third Round
Back in 2020, we first reported on a tiny but mighty program at T-Mobile called the TechX Returnship. The company’s technology arm, under Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer Brian King, looked to partner with reacHIRE, an organization that helps women returning to the workforce in tech by providing opportunities specifically to those who’ve taken a long professional career break to care for family members, raise children or for other personal reasons — of which there have certainly been no shortage during Covid times.
The Returnship quickly made a name for itself as a holistic approach to providing female professionals with tech-centric resumes to join a six-month, full-time paid return-to-work program in order to return to the careers where they were thriving before life got in the way. The Returnship began small, a pilot program pairing just six applicants that ran from November 2019 until May 2020 with managers who were vetted and prepared to be fully engaged mentors.
Of course, also in that time period, the pandemic hit and drove a deeper wedge between a vast amount of women across the country, especially working mothers, and their careers.
“Life happens, and we have to take a break from the workforce to become caregivers or take extended leave,” says Edwige Robinson, T-Mobile’s Senior Vice President of the Central Regional Network Engineering & Operations and a powerhouse female leader in technology. “After being out for a couple of years or so, you feel like a newcomer again, reticent but also motivated to explore the possibilities — this is why I love the Returnship program — it is a second chance opportunity for a vast pool of highly qualified candidates who are ready to make an impact! You have to trust that you have what it takes.”
How the Pandemic Disproportionately Affected Women in the Workforce
McKinsey & Lean In showed that 1 in 4 women considered downshifting their careers, due to the increased burden that work put on them and their families.
Fortune released a study from The National Women’s Law Center that found 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September 2020, a sobering fact when compared to how many men left their jobs during the same time period: 216,000.
While staying true to its mission of helping women return to the workforce — more important than ever, once the pandemic took hold — the TechX Returnship recognized other populations of displaced workers as well, and decided to open its door a little wider.
For its second cohort, which ran from November 2020 to May 2021, the program designed for women also accepted a few select men, focusing on veterans who have traditionally experienced a challenge getting back into the workplace after military service — a problem also exacerbated by the pandemic. Ultimately 20 more spots were created, for a total of 26 members: 23 women and three men.
And with this growth came more success. The results offered a rare bit of good news during trying times: 91.6 percent of the graduating class found full-time and extended-contract positions at T-Mobile.
The program quickly gained credibility with veteran hiring groups like Hiring Our Heroes, which began recommending the program to its qualifying members.
As we look toward 2022, recruitment is underway for the third cohort, and the program is expanding to 37 positions with various in-person, remote and hybrid roles, some even outside of technology in consumer markets, HR and finance. It marks an important return (and continuation) of the Returnship.
“We wanted to learn through the pilot,” King said. “We wanted to make sure that we have the right managers and mentors and that they were set up to be successful. We now have a formula that works. And we have a formula that we can scale within the rest of our teams and make sure that we’ve got the right level of champions within each of the departments.”
To kick off the latest application process, T-Mobile assembled a few of its recent graduates for a panel discussion on how the program helped them, and could help others with this next cohort too. Hosted by female empowerment blogger Brandi Riley, the conversation immediately got to the matter at heart.
“We want you to imagine yourself in the shoes of these folks here,” said Returnship recruiting lead Joanne de Guzman. “Imagine not being employed for two plus years, but you have value and you have worth.”
While nearly 1.1 million women dropped out of the workforce between February 2020 and March 2021, the rate of unemployment was even higher for women with children, with almost 1.4 million fewer moms of school-aged children actively working during that same time period than the prior year. And getting these women and others temporarily sidelined back to work is of crucial importance to both the program and T-Mobile.
“You often hear people say it’s a priority, but It’s more than a priority to us,” she said earnestly. “It’s our future workforce and current workforce and we all need to do our part and work together to make sure people are employed and find the right cultural fit.”
Though both are seasoned professionals with a list of career bona fides, two graduates of last year’s Returnship class, Pam Joy and Sandie Moshofsky, said the question of whether or not employers would understand the impossible choices they had to make left them doubting their own value.
“If you have a career gap, it’s almost an automatic reject,” explains Joy, who has 12 years of experience and a masters in telecommunications. “But this program only looks for those with career gaps.”
Joy said The Returnship gave her more than just confidence in her skills after she chose to take a career break to focus on supporting a terminally ill family member before the pandemic hit — the training and support the program provided her helped her understand how her experiences have made her resilient, as well as a valuable hire.
“Many people had to make a difficult choice when they dropped out of the workforce,” she said. “It wasn’t something they necessarily wanted. Perhaps they wanted to work but they needed childcare.”
A self-professed “wireless nerd,” Joy now works full time at T-Mobile as a senior engineer in the company’s Systems Architecture Network Technology organization. She said she’s on the fast track to continuing her career growth, stronger than ever — in life and work.
“I have been through a very challenging situation, but it didn’t break me, it made me stronger,” she said. “So, I felt like I could face whatever challenges work would bring.”
Sandie Moshofsky, who has 27 years of experience in the telecommunications industry in operations and engineering, said she does not regret taking a step back from her career to care for family before the pandemic hit, but that it undeniably put fear in her heart. She says when she had trouble finding work after Covid-19, she was accepted into the second cohort of the Returnship in 2020, but hesitated because she wondered if she “had what it takes” to re-enter the fast-paced technical world after a two year break. Ultimately, she says the program was a chance to get beyond the fear of her past choices when they had to be made, and move forward.
“We are women of experience and know our value and worth,” said Moshofsky, who is now a senior project manager in the Technical Enterprise Technology Solutions organization at T-Mobile. I have so much gratitude for that opportunity as a woman and woman of color coming in. It didn’t go without sacrifices with the kids and work and putting food on the table and having shelter. It’s about making the right decisions in that moment, and it can be life-changing if you don’t make the right decisions along the way because you could be without a job.”
“We are offering people opportunity, reskilling, coaching and development,” said de Guzman, noting her personal enthusiasm for those applying for the 37 spots open for the third Returnship round, “and I think we will find rock stars like Sandie and Pam with a history of performance.”
And for those unsure if they deserve the opportunities the program offers, Moshofsky had these simple words of encouragement to offer: “Just push that button, because I kept saying I can’t do this alone. I needed that support and T-Mobile was there.”