iReturn: The Journey Back to the Workforce

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When her first child was born, Gabriella left her engineering role at a major food producer in the Great Lakes region to become a stay-at-home mom. She has no regrets, and loved the time she spent with her children, as well as volunteering at their schools, scout troops and other organizations her kids were involved in. But 22 years later, with her youngest headed off to college, she decided she was ready to return to her career.

“An opportunity presented itself and I had to apply,” Gabriella said.

Gabriella discovered Northrop Grumman’s iReturn program. iReturn is designed to bring people back to the workforce after a long time away. It provides experienced professionals with a 12-week “returnship” to prepare for a full-time career in one of several fields at Northrop Grumman through training, professional development and networking opportunities. Qualified applicants have a minimum of a two-year career break and join a cohort of employees for a returnship that focuses on providing a seamless transition back into the workforce.

Many iReturn participants are women like Gabriella who took time to raise families or care for aging relatives; however, the program is open to anyone who has spent time away from the workforce.

Jessica, for instance, discovered the program after serving in the military for nine years. Jessica worked through college as a waitress and bartender, and as an event and sales coordinator for a large hotel company for three years. Then, she joined the U.S. Air Force. After six years she left active duty and continued serving in the Utah Air National Guard.

Growing up in San Diego, where the company has several facilities, Jessica had long dreamed of working for Northrop Grumman. She learned about the iReturn program from a company recruiter.

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“Needless to say, I had a diverse background of customer service and training to offer,” she said. “Joining the iReturn program was very easy. On my first day, I was introduced to my new team and was assigned an informal mentor to help me get started. My entire team was helpful and also provided me with the support to make my new job my own and run with it.”

Both Gabriella and Jessica pointed to the different layers of mentorship that the program provides as keys to their success. iReturn participants are mentored by someone who works in their immediate department, as well as a mentor who can provide more broad information about the company. Northrop Grumman employees who have graduated from the program serve as mentors as well. Gabriella said all of them provide a safe place to ask any questions.

“I have had numerous people step up to help me grow and succeed in my career, something I’d never experienced before and certainly didn’t expect after a long career break,” Gabriella said. In the five years since she came through iReturn, she has worked her way up to a Program Manager position in a software development group, where she is responsible for profit and loss on multiple programs and leads a cross-functional integrated product team comprised of engineering, operations, logistics, business management, contracts, finance and supply chain personnel to achieve program requirements.

Jessica said her success is also because of the culture at Northrop Grumman which she described as inclusive and community-oriented. She went through iReturn about a year ago and now works as an Employee Experience Coordinator.

“Change is sometimes difficult to overcome, but you never know what amazing opportunities might come your way if you don’t open the door to them.”

Jessica, iReturn Program member

“After being in the military for nine years, being told what to do and where to go, I’m thriving in my position and can work very autonomously,” Jessica said. “I have the freedom to be proactive about change and progress, and I have a lot of pride in what I do.”

Both women acknowledged that it can be overwhelming to get back into the office after a long time away and said being around others with similar experiences helped. Gabriella noted that the average time away in her cohort was 11 years, and has heard of a more recent iReturner who had been out of the workforce for 23 years. She hopes that programs like iReturn will not only welcome more people back, but also show those who are thinking of taking time away that there is opportunity to return to work when they’re ready.

“iReturners have shown that they are valuable employees that bring work and life experience, are mature and tend to be committed to the company that has given them a chance when others would not,” Gabriella said.

Jessica agreed. “Change is sometimes difficult to overcome, but you never know what amazing opportunities might come your way if you don’t open the door to them,” she said. “With the iReturn program, you can take that step with fellow cohort members and not feel so alone doing it. You got this!”

Northrop Grumman is currently accepting applications for a new iReturn cohort beginning this fall. To learn more about the program and application process, please visit iReturn: The Northrop Grumman Returnship Program.

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