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IBM Tech Re-Entry Program Inspires Confidence

Jennifer Howland, an engineer and Pathways program executive, is on a mission to bring skilled women back into the IBM workforce. Starting from scratch, she created a program in 2013 to help those who had taken a career break gain skills to re-enter the workplace.

During that two-year program, the women received on-the-job training with various business units in IBM. The program was a success. However, Howland realized it needed to be revamped to increase the number of people who would benefit.

Howland had an epiphany when she read a newspaper article about internships for financial markets executives. “I realized I needed to transform my program into an internship program in IBM,” she recalls.

Her original program morphed into the IBM Tech Re-Entry program. The Tech Re-Entry program was spurred by the STEM Re-Entry Taskforce, sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers, a long-time partner of IBM, and iRelaunch, a company specializing in returning men and women to work after a hiatus. IBM was one of the taskforce’s seven founding member companies.

IBM piloted its Tech Re-Entry program in spring 2016 with six interns in the U.S. All were recommended for jobs at the end of the 12-week program. That fall, the IBM program expanded to Canada, which has its own distinct recruiting and hiring policies and practices. Canada has been part of every North American cohort. A cohort was also piloted this summer in India.

Structured Approach

The Tech Re-Entry program has run five cohorts to date, each lasting 12 weeks. Seventy women have been through the program so far. Each candidate must have had a career break of two years or more in addition to having the desired experience.

The average career break for the Tech Re-Entry interns is around six years. Women with longer breaks have transitioned well. A woman with a 15-year career break and one with a 20-year career break were both interns in IBM Research and were converted to full-time employees, Howland notes.

Each cohort begins with a three-day orientation. The cohort meets weekly with the program manager to share experiences and to ask questions.

Each intern is assigned a technical mentor and a “buddy” besides the manager overseeing the intern. The technical mentor and manager work closely with the intern to assess skill gaps, create a plan to close those gaps and monitor progress.

The buddy is someone who can answer questions about the particular IBM site and/or overall IBM practices, policies, tools, etc. Tech Re-Entry program alumnae are later tapped to become the buddy mentors for current interns, Howland says.

A Positive Impact

More than 90 percent of the interns have been recommended for full-time roles in IBM. Even if an intern isn’t a match, she has gained experience and confidence by participation in the program.

Feedback from the business units has been very positive. “On almost every occasion when I explain the program to a leader, that leader knows someone in their lives struggling to get back in the workforce after a career break,” says Howland.

The program is expanding as more business units and geographies get on board. Besides, North America and India, plans are in the works to launch cohorts in Brazil, Singapore and Australia.

Howland isn’t resting on her laurels. Her goal is to see that each IBM unit with an internship program for college students should consider participating in the Tech Re-Entry program. “This has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done in my 33-year career with IBM,” she says.