Amazon offers ‘returnships’ for professionals rejoining the labor market

Amazon Returnship program participant, financial analyst Zeinab Yassin - Photo: Amazon
Jun 08, 2021 announced last week the launch of Amazon Returnship, a new employment initiative focused on hiring professionals that have been unemployed or underemployed for at least a year. The retail and technology giant said it plans to hire 1,000 people in the coming years through the new program.

The company made the decision to roll out the program after a successful pilot with over 30 participants in areas including operations finance, consumer payments, Amazon Pay and search.

Alex Mooney, senior diversity talent acquisition program manager at Amazon, said that odds are typically slim for people seeking to return to work. “The average returner has been out of the workforce for six years. Fewer than 10 percent receive a job offer, and the probability of gaining employment decreases significantly at two years of unemployment.” Amazon has an internal team in place that is focused on recruiting those looking to rejoin the workforce.

Those accepted into the program receive an initial 16-week paid opportunity with choices to work in a wide variety of disciplines. Each participant (AKA returner) goes through “a customized and abbreviated interview process” that addresses their career path. Amazon provides returners with dedicated support and personalized coaching during the entire process.

Returners work on a specific project during the first 16 weeks with an opportunity to move into full-time positions with Amazon upon completion. Those receiving returnships work remotely from home during this initial phase with Amazon providing child and elder care assistance to help workers transition back into the workforce with the least amount of disruption to their lives.

Amazon expects that three-quarters of returners will be women. Millions of women lost their jobs during the pandemic and many fell out as personal demands such as childcare made it infeasible to return to work.

“While people may need to drop from the workforce to help care for children or aging parents, we believe that this should not penalize their careers,” Beth Galetti, senior vice president of People eXperience and technology at Amazon, said in a statement. “Coming back to work after a break can be challenging—the company you know and the tools you used are likely to have changed. Amazon’s new Returnship program is designed to help professionals reintegrate to the workforce and offers them competitive pay, a structured environment, and personalized mentorship so they can succeed.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are retailers missing a personnel opportunity by not actively recruiting individuals who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time? What can other companies learn from Amazon’s early findings around its returnship program?

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13 Comments on "Amazon offers ‘returnships’ for professionals rejoining the labor market"

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Bob Amster

After one reads about this the reaction should be, why did a business not do this much sooner? Retailers can develop a tiered approach to re-assimilation back into a formal work environment, with returners trying different positions, being assessed, and, eventually, resuming a path to promotion and longevity. Hiring people with demonstrable previous, practical experience is a win for the retailers, too. Brilliant!

Jeff Sward

I love this. This is empathy in action. A specific program aimed at a specific segment of the population that needs a different thought process in bringing them back into the workforce. This is actually breaking a sweat in an attempt to make a difference.

DeAnn Campbell

Amazon continues to build out their self supporting retail ecosystem by thinking in all dimensions. The more families who are able to regain economic stability, the better for our economy. And since the retail industry comprises 70 percent of our economy, Amazon is performing a tremendous service toward helping communities thrive by addressing this underserved, but seminal building block for our future.

Georganne Bender

I really like this idea. I am impressed that Amazon realizes applicants are the same people they were before they took a break. I know so many smart and capable people who were never considered for rehire because the hiring companies wouldn’t give them a second glance. Still, I wonder how open Amazon is to hiring older workers.

Lisa Goller

This is hiring with heart. Amazon Returnship proves Amazon is serious about investing in and caring for its people. This compassionate program will secure and nurture talent in growth areas like digital marketing and mobile pay.

Recruiters often view resume gaps as red flags, even if the time off was due to urgent “sandwich generation” pressures. This program solves issues with market re-entry, creating a win-win for workers and Amazon.

Other retailers can adopt similar programs to re-engage motivated talent and reverse brain drain.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Amazon continues to be the market innovator, whether such innovation involves its online, in-store or now human relations function. Not only will Amazon generate terrific good will, it will attract those who, for whatever reason, have been out of the workforce. I expect Amazon will see some terrific professionals eager to get back into the game. Kudos to Amazon.


Amazon always seems to have a step up on their competition. With the labor market seemingly shrinking they just increased it. This is a great initiative to assist those who need the help. By addressing the apprehension of going back to work with re-assimilation assistance, they will attract the most talented associates and strengthen their workforce at the same time. Kudos to Amazon.

Venky Ramesh

The pandemic has been especially hard on women as regards unemployment. Women ended 2020 with 5.4 million fewer jobs than they had in February before the pandemic began. Meanwhile, men lost 4.4 million jobs over that same time period. Long unemployment not only breaks their morale but also erodes their skills as technology continues to race forward. What Amazon is doing to re-employ them is incredibly amazing and at the same time a win-win. They would be able to re-hire experienced people at pay rates that will be attractive to the job seeker and the employer at the same time. Kudos to their human-centric approach.

Evan Snively
Evan Snively
Director of Planning & Loyalty, Moosylvania
11 months 17 days ago

I think the biggest hurdle to returning to work for most is going to be the technology/tool set hurdle. That said, I really don’t think it is as big of an actual hurdle as it is a mental one. If applicants have a baseline of any sort with a computer (or even phone) and a company provides the right mentorship with a dash of patience, they will see a valuable employee pool assimilate back into the workforce!

Cathy Hotka

So smart. AARP offers a service to place retired people into professional jobs. My dad took advantage of this and brought his 45-year career in chemistry to the EPA. Amazon Returnship should be a big success.

Shelley E. Kohan

It is interesting to see the continued efforts by Amazon to think about the workforce and its people. Returnships will be a big success and many retailers ARE missing the boat by continuing to look at gaps in employment as a negative. NRF created RISE Up in 2017 to help upskill workers for jobs in retail. These types of programs provide potential employees the skills required to be successful. Companies can look inward at hiring practices and look for relevant ways to get America back to work. Amazon has made the call to action and retailers should be listening as the workforce is shrinking.

Rachelle King

This could be a game changer for so many wanting to return to work. There is an awful stigma associated with being out of the workforce for an extended period of time, often, no matter the reason. It seems the longer you’re out, the less companies are willing to hire you (yet, when you’re working, companies then wonder how to prevent burnout). Even if the returnship does not result in full-time work, an Amazon-infused resume may be just the lucky break needed to inspire other employers. Definitely strikes the right tone as markets start to open up post lock-down. Still, Amazon is nothing if not smart. This is not done without some benefit to them. It’s just good that it can benefit others too.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
11 months 16 days ago

This is a great initiative and it’s great that Amazon is taking the lead. It highlights the amount of talent Amazon recognizes as being available having been out of the workforce for a number of years.

Getting access to this talent could well be a boon for Amazon but my bigger hope will be that other companies will follow their lead and look at similar programs.

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