Legislation Also Seeks to Close Gender and Skills Gap in STEM Careers 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) this week joined Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) in reintroducing bipartisan legislation to help mid-career workers seeking to return or transition into the STEM workforce.

The STEM Restoring Employment Skills through Targeted Assistance, Re-entry, and Training (RESTART) Act (S.1297) would authorize funding to support small and medium-sized STEM businesses that offer paid, mid-career internships, known as “returnships,” for mid-career workers seeking to return or transition into the STEM workforce.

“The pandemic and its ill effects on the American workforce increase the need for the STEM RESTART Act.  It is a bipartisan plan to energize small and medium-sized businesses to help talented people with STEM skills, especially women, return to the workforce,” Hyde-Smith said.  “I believe our plan should be part of the equation as we work to build a stronger post-pandemic economy.”

“As a former computer programmer, I understand firsthand the value of a STEM education and how it can open doors for successful careers,” Rosen said.  “That’s why I’m working to expand opportunities for our workforce in Nevada to enter the STEM careers of the future and help our businesses fill technical positions with qualified workers.  I’m reintroducing this bipartisan legislation to provide the professional development and support our workers need to transition back to work in the STEM industry, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, or enter a good-paying STEM field for the first time.  I will continue working in Congress to support Nevada’s workforce and small business community during this economic crisis and beyond.”

Studies indicate that mid-career internships or “returnships” effectively address the difficulties of former STEM employees seeking to return to work to in-demand industry sectors.

Nearly one in four women take a break in their career, and in the past year, four times more women than men dropped out of the workforce due to the COVID pandemic, according to the Center for American Progress.

Research published by The Harvard Business Review also found that while 93 percent of off-ramped women want to resume their careers, only 74 percent manage to get any kind of job at all, and just 40 percent successfully return to work full-time.  In addition, a Pew study found that 62 percent of Black STEM workers say they have faced discrimination in hiring or promotion at their jobs, compared to just 13 percent of White STEM workers.

The STEM RESTART Act would:

  • Provide Direct Funding for Organizations within Needed STEM Fields:  Allocates $50 million per year in grant funding for small and medium-sized businesses to establish “returnships” for qualified talent within in-demand industries within the STEM workforce.
  • Prioritize Returnships for Underrepresented Populations to Close the Skills/Hiring Gap:  Prioritizes funds for “returnships” for unemployed or underemployed persons who are also part of historically underrepresented groups in STEM, including women, Black and Latino persons, and individuals in rural communities.
  • Ensure Accountability:  Requires any grant-funded “returnship” to last at least 10 weeks and include assurances of how the program will build upon returning workers’ skills.  Requires the Secretary of Labor to track and report to Congress on the use of funding by grantees.  Also sets parameters for who can apply for grant funds and limit initial funding to five years.
  • Include Flexibility for Local Needs:  Allows small and medium-sized businesses within in-demand industries, as determined by Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act standards and state and local workforce development strategies, to apply for grant funds.  Also allows grantees to collaborate with other providers, including universities and nonprofit organizations, to provide the best “returnship” experience.
  • Protect Returning Workers from Exploitation:  Ensures that returning workers must be provided payment and benefits equivalent to a grantee’s existing non-entry level employees.  Allows for grant funds to be used for benefits and incentives, such as childcare and necessary travel or training expenses.

U.S. Senator Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is an original cosponsor of the Senate measure, which has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.  U.S. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) and Jim Baird (R-Ind.) introduced companion bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives.

The Incubate, the STEM Education Coalition, AnitaB.org, the Society of Women Engineers, Microsoft, the Small Business Roundtable, and other organizations endorse the legislation.

Background and endorsement statements available here.