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What’s a ‘returnship’ and how can it boost Utah’s businesses?

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Greg Manuel, vice president and general manager of the strategic deterrent systems division at Northrop Grumman, left, and Gov. Spencer Cox bump fists after a press conference outside of the Northrop Grumman in Roy on Thursday, April 1, 2021, where the launch of Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s new returnship initiative was announced.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

If you’ve lost your job or been away from the workforce for a while, a new Utah program could help get you back on the job.

Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson announced at Northrop Grumman’s Roy office an initiative to expand opportunities for individuals returning to work following an extended absence. During a news conference Thursday, Utah’s two top elected officials introduced a new aspect of the Learn & Work program. Funded through a $15 million grant approved by the state Legislature, the initiative will offer “returnships” that function similar to internships by providing participants the chance to build their resumes.

“We are launching a returnship initiative to provide adults who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time — such as full-time parents, military personnel or their spouses, caregivers, professionals who may have left their careers to advance their education or retirees — the opportunity to get current experience, skills, training and mentoring they need in order to get back into the workplace,” Henderson said. “Unlike internships, which are designed primarily for young people at the beginning of their careers, the goal of a returnship program is to help experienced adults reenter the workforce without starting at the bottom of the career ladder.


Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, left, and Gov. Spencer Cox display an executive order announcing the launch of the lieutenant governor’s new returnship initiative outside of Northrop Grumman’s offices in Roy on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“Diversity and life experience are valuable to us and should be relevant to pay and opportunity in the workplace,” she added. “The returnship program will help us reach those who haven’t been participating in the job market for one reason or another.”

Cox’s executive order will require state agencies to identify returnship opportunities that can be offered, which the governor says makes Utah the first in the nation to do so.

The Learn & Work program will provide funding to Utah colleges and universities to pay for free training to qualified students. Returnships developed between education and industry partners will be prioritized for funding, he added.

“We need industry, government and education to come together and help individuals who want to reengage in the economy find meaningful professional opportunities. We also want to optimize training opportunities through our local colleges and universities,” Henderson said.

Initial Learn & Work programs were developed to support educational and training pathways in partnership with employers providing resume-building experiences, she said. The success of the original round launched last summer resulted in the Legislature providing additional funding to support skills-development courses throughout the state, Henderson said.

The program — operated in conjunction with Talent Ready Utah and the Utah System of Higher Education — focuses on helping individuals by providing tuition assistance for those enrolled in short-term training programs aimed at getting participants re-entered into the workforce or upgraded to more stable employment, she said. Career opportunities will be available in various high-profile industries, including computer science, health care, manufacturing, transportation, and business, she added.


Greg Manuel, vice president and general manager of the strategic deterrent systems division at Northrop Grumman, speaks at a press conference announcing the launch of the Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s new returnship initiative at outside of the company’s offices in Roy on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Listening are Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, left, Gov. Spencer Cox, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn and Beth Pitts-Madonna, vice president of human resources at Northrop Grumman.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“The Utah System of Higher Education is proud to partner with our local employers through Learn & Work in Utah,” said Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Woolstenhulme. “Our training programs and partnerships with employers are intended to connect individuals with career opportunities while providing employers with a well-prepared workforce.”

Speaking during the event outside the Roy offices of aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman, Beth Pitts-Madonna, its vice president of human resources, said the company is joining the returnship effort by expanding its own similar project called “I Return” to Utah.

“Our I Return program enables experienced professionals to translate skills gained while taking a break of two or more years from their career and really translating that into a career at Northrop Grumman,” she said. “The return program provides a 12-week returnship to provide a full-time career in one of several fields of Northrop Grumman, and we do this through training, professional development and networking opportunities.”

She said the company, which employs over 6,700 people in Utah, works in conjunction with the Society of Women Engineers and I Relaunch, among other organizations.

“The importance of building an a diverse and inclusive workforce and capturing the ideas and the power of every single person is critical to our collective success,” she said. “An inclusive environment where diversity flourishes, creativity grows and innovation expands enables us all to create some of the most technically sophisticated products in the world.”

Ben Hart, deputy director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said the new state Learn & Work initiative can go a long way toward helping thousands of Utahns looking to reenter the workforce or get career retraining to gain the skills necessary to find fulfilling employment.

“The way that it helps is those who, in particular, have been out of the labor force for however long can come back, they can apply for these returnships and they can get some of that critical experience to build their resume and find better employment opportunities,” he said. 

For more information about the Learn & Work program, visit ltgovernor.utah.gov.


Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson announces the launch of the her new returnship initiative during a press conference outside of the Northrop Grumman office’s in Roy on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News