Legislation Would Engage Small, Mid-Sized Businesses to Provide Paid “Returnships” for Technical Professionals

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) today introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide grants for small and medium-sized STEM businesses to offer robust, paid, mid-career internships, known as “returnships,” for 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.4677) would promote mid-career internships or “returnships” as an effective way to address the difficulties of former STEM employees seeking to return to work to in-demand industry sectors.

“There are any number of reasons many talented people, particularly women, leave their careers for a period of time.  We’re proposing a program to aid reentry into the workforce for underrepresented individuals with STEM-related skills.  Our measure would help fulfill a need for qualified workers in small and mid-sized businesses that are driving STEM job growth,” Hyde-Smith said.  “I think this is a smart solution to help get people back to work, increase the financial standing of many families, and boost economic activity in growing states like Mississippi.”

“Nevada is home to countless innovators, entrepreneurs, and forward-thinking small business owners,” said Rosen.  “However, particularly during our current economic crisis, we must do more to break down the barriers that too many workers face when re-entering or transitioning into the STEM workforce.  This bipartisan legislation would create a new national program to support our mid-careers workers by funding mid-level returnships to provide the professional development and support they need to transition back to work in the STEM industry or enter a good-paying STEM field for the first time.  This bill will also help bridge the gap between workers who are underrepresented in STEM fields and small businesses looking for qualified talent.  I will continue working in Congress to develop forward-thinking solutions that support our workforce and small business community during this crisis.”

There’s a hidden talent pool in women, as well as men, returning to work after a break, but their resumes are often overlooked due to large gaps in employment.  The Center for Talent Innovation’s research shows 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.  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.  
The STEM RESTART Act would authorize a grant program to support returnship programs involving a probationary period and opportunities for off-ramped workers to obtain mentorship, professional development, and support as participants transition back to work and advance in their career.  They allow an employer to base a hiring decision on actual work instead of just interviews and references.  Many larger and Fortune 500 companies provide mid-career internships for returning technical professionals as an effort to close the gender gap and skills gap.  However, studies show that small firms are more likely to develop emerging technologies than large firms, yet have access to fewer resources.
Specifically, the STEM RESTART Act: 

  • Provides Direct Funding for Organizations within Needed STEM Fields:  Allocates $50 million per year in grant funding for small and medium-sized businesses to set up returnships for qualified talent within in-demand industries within the STEM workforce.
  • Prioritizes 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.
  • Ensures 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 limits initial funding to five years.
  • Includes 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.
  • Protects 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.

A copy of the Rosen and Hyde-Smith STEM RESTART Act is available here.

Read statements of support for STEM RESTART Act here.