Everything employers need to know about launching and expanding returnships and return to work programs
From Participant to Leader of Return Utah - the First State RTW Program, with Shay Baker
Shay Baker is the new leader of Return Utah, Utah’s return to work program that launched in the fall of 2021. Utah is the first state to run a return to work program. Shay joined the inaugural cohort of Return Utah as a relauncher participant after an eight-year career break. At the end of her returnship, she was asked to take the lead role of the Return Utah program, which has more than doubled in size for the second cohort which started in January 2022. In this episode, Shay discusses what it was like to be in the inaugural cohort and how the first year was a helpful learning experience for both herself and her managers. She also shares some of her future plans for the Return Utah program.
Three senior women at the State of Utah are relaunchers. One of them is Lieutenant Governor Diedre Henderson, who took a 13-year career break and who was the impetus behind the launch of Return Utah.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, Employer Edition. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. In this podcast series for employers, we'll discuss the most important topics in launching, running and expanding employer return to work programs. Whether your organization is starting a return to work program, has piloted one, or is running a mature program, our goal is to share innovations and best practices in an effort to hire and support as many Relaunchers as possible.
Today, we welcome Shay Baker. Shay is the new leader of Return Utah, Utah's return to work program that launched in the fall of 2021. Utah is the first state to run a return to work program, and Shay was a relauncher participant in the inaugural cohort of Return Utah. And she was asked at the end of her returnship to take the lead role of the Return Utah program, which is more than doubled in size for the next cohort, which is starting in January - now.
Shay is a former reporter and producer who also spent four years as a human resources specialist earlier in her career and used her strong communications, media and public relations background in her Return Utah role at the state's commerce department. She took a six year career break after her most recent pre career break role as a reporter and producer for KTBX, the Salt Lake City, ABC affiliate TV station.
Interestingly three senior women at the State of Utah are Relaunchers. One of them is Lieutenant Governor, Deidre Henderson, who took a 13 year career break and who was the impetus behind the Return Utah return to work program launching. Shay, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the Employer Edition.
Shay Baker: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Thanks for joining us. And maybe Shay, we can start by talking about your experience in the Return Utah program. Can you talk about how your returnship was structured and what you ended up doing in the role?
Shay Baker: Yes. So the returnship program was structured as a 16 week program, where we, as a small group were considered basically internships for adults, right?
So we worked in a regular role for that entirety of 16 weeks with the Return Utah program providing transitional support. So each of us had a different role as needed by the state. And that's the way the Return Utah program is structured, is state agencies were basically asked if they had any need for sort of internship or higher level work to be done that could be temporary. And so they scoured all these agencies scoured for potential opportunities and we were hired to fit that specific role. So every role fit the background and experience that someone had. So I was at the Utah Department of Commerce who, they needed some communication professionals. People who had some marketing experience and background people with media experience.
So I was hired given my experience and background to work as a communication specialist to do all sorts of things. So during my time there, I helped develop an onboarding program which included the production and creation, planning, and even the editing of a large scale agency video. I handled customer feedback for Utahns, that utilized services of the Utah Department of Commerce, which helps hundreds of thousands of people a year, whether it be that they're opening a business or getting a business registration or registering for a license so that they could be a nurse or a doctor, or do nails. Things of that nature. So I helped with that. And then I did a communications review where I was analyzing a lot of the communication strategies used in the department for internal and external communications and came to some conclusions as to whether those were effective and how we could move forward with some effective strategies given my experience.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. That sounds like a pretty meaty role to walk into and be structured as a returnship. How did that feel to be diving right back into that substantive work after your career break?
Shay Baker: To be honest, in the beginning it was laid out a bit simpler. So my first task was to do that review of internal and external communications.
But frankly for me, I felt like it was really important to be transparent with my supervisors as far as what my level of work includes. And so while that was very interesting, I needed a little bit more work. I needed a little bit more of a challenge. So I went directly to my supervisor and I said, listen, I can handle more than this, give me more. So they did, and I continue to do that. And that helped shape a really positive experience for me. And I think it helped shape this idea of a returnship as utilizing someone who has experience and education and this was new for them as well at the Department of Commerce, they had never had a returner or a relauncher, so to speak, within their organization.
So they were trying to play it safe, and make sure that I wasn't overwhelmed and that I was transitioning in a positive manner. But I think we both came to this conclusion that, I could handle it and the agency needed some more work done. And so we worked together to make it a really wonderful and enriching experience for both myself and for Commerce as well.
Carol Fishman Cohen: That really says a lot about the management and the outlook about the program. Just to note that Margaret Bussey who's the head of Commerce is a relauncher herself, another very senior person inside the State of Utah organization who took a 12 year career break. That in itself is also exceptional.
The process by which you're saying, it sounded pretty fluid, pretty flexible. They were really working with you. And especially when they saw the talent, your talent, that they worked to structure a challenging role. And again, as you're saying, this is the inaugural cohort, so this was the first time at it.
And it really says a lot, I think, about the agility of the organization to engage with you in that way and to adapt the role. Shay, what was the recruiting process like to get accepted into the program? And how did you originally find out about it?
Shay Baker: I originally heard about the program actually through news media.
So the return to work program here in Utah was the brain child of the Lieutenant Governor, who you mentioned is a returner. Also her Chief of Staff is a returner. And her Chief of Staff directly contacted her when she, the Lieutenant Governor, when she was in a previous role seeking help, because she needed to return to work after a divorce.
And the Lieutenant Governor sorta became her buddy or mentor. So the two of them had this return to work experience, plus this partnership where they helped each other return to work in different roles. They went to the Governor and propose this idea. He approved it and said, let's go forward with it.
So when they moved forward, it was in the media. I saw it in a news article and I read it. And frankly, I thought it was a brilliant idea, a perfect idea for the population that we live in Utah, where this is a very family oriented state. There are a lot of kids in this state. I think we're the youngest state in the country.
So a lot of women return. Or go home to take care of their children. And then later on, they're looking for opportunities to return to work. Of course, there are people in other scenarios that need to return to work as well. But for the demographic in Utah was very fitting and I just thought it was brilliant, but I shelved it.
Maybe I'll return to this in a couple of years when I'm ready, because I just had a baby last year. I have a one-year-old. And I thought I'll wait until she's in school. But honestly, everything lined up. I have a neighbor that worked at the Department of Commerce and they were shaking up some things in their communications department, and my neighbor said, you should talk to Margaret Bussey, the Executive Director, she's looking for some insight into, where she should take this communication role, right? Should she hire a PIO? Should she hire a team of communication professionals? Just one woman or man, what should she do?
And she might want to talk to you. So my process was backward in the fact that I met with Executive Director Busey first, and I informed her, I don't know that she was necessarily looking for me to fill a role as much as she was looking to pick my brain and see where I was at.
And I told her that I didn't want a full-time role right away. And so her office later contacted me and said, we have this returnship thing and we're going to be one of the first agencies participating in this program. We would really recommend that you apply. So I did. And the rest of the process was as it would normally be for any job, you apply for a position, you submit your resume, your references, et cetera. They called me. I went in for a couple of interviews. I think I did a series of two interviews. It was two. Yes. And then I went in. And when they offered me the job, I started just like anyone else, you go in on your first day and someone meets you there and they tell you how to get into the building and tell you where to park and, help you log into your computer and get all of your stuff set up.
And then from there, so I was just getting used to the job, but then the Return Utah program stepped in to help give me transitional support, which iRelaunch was a big part of that for us and the Return Utah program, and helping to, help teach us about current technology. And help teach us about how to enter time on our time card, help teach us about how to introduce ourselves as a returner. How we may feel inadequate and how to push through those things.
All of those things were addressed in a way to help the transition, be a little bit more easier and to give us support and answers to our questions as a group.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. There's a lot packed into that answer. First of all, thank you for the comments you made about iRelaunch as far as we were concerned to be involved with the first state return to work program, that was very exciting. And I remember being in those cohort coaching sessions with you and it's wonderful to be full circle now and having this conversation with you as head of the program. So I wanted to say that, but the other thing that you mentioned was that you initially found out about this from your neighbor.
And so I just want to underscore that because so often we hear that it's, sometimes these people or relationship that you least expect somehow end up leading to a job opportunity. And this is an example of that.
Shay Baker: Yeah. In fact, when he called me and he said, I gave your phone number to my boss, I flat out said, why would you do that?
And I was shocked and I was terrified when she called me and she said in two minutes, tell me about yourself. And frankly, I thought, I don't know what to tell you, because I haven't worked for eight years. I am literally right here with my baby, who's rubbing her snotty nose on my leg.
Like I don't know that I have anything interesting to provide to you, but what it did do is it gave me a little bit of confidence that my neighbor saw something in me. And what is interesting about that process is, here we are now I'm transitioning into leading this program for the State of Utah.
And one of my neighbors, who's also a neighbor of my initial neighbor who contacted me is part of this second cohort. She has been home with her children for many years. She had some rowdy twin boys that she was taking care of and she didn't have a college degree. So a few years ago, she participated in a program, offered through one of the universities here in Utah.
She completed her bachelor's degree and she thought, it's great. Now I have this degree, but I don't really have any recent work experience to help me make this degree a job. So she texted me one day and she said, what is this program you're involved in? Let me know how it works. And so I shared it with her and she applied and she's now part of the group she's working in the Lieutenant Governor's office and she's hoping that this will help transition her into a career and help her to update her skills and, be more marketable in the future for a different job that she may choose.
So it's really interesting how the people in your life can really set you up for something that you maybe weren't expecting, but that might be really right for you.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. I love that story. And actually it's a good segue into the next question I wanted to ask you, because of course, we're talking about you being in the inaugural cohort and now the program is doubling in size and a new cohort starting.
Including your neighbor, which I love. And I'm just wondering now that you're in this role and what great perspective to have as a head of program, having gone through it yourself, but are there changes that you are, want to make to the program because you experienced it in the inaugural cohort and what is your vision for that?
Shay Baker: That's a great question. And I will say before I answer that, I have been so impressed with the incredible amount of work and organization that's been put forth in creating this program. This was something that the Lieutenant Governor got the approval, and then she just called the state's HR department and said, Hey, figure it out.
And they really did. In particular, Dan Chadwick with the division of Human Resource Management in the State of Utah did an incredible job just setting this up. And so it really had quite a high standard for me coming in. I've been so impressed with the way it was set up with the cohort model and with opportunities for us to address issues or concerns.
It's been really well done. My goal pushing forward, I have several, but one of them is to make the program bigger. That's actually a directive that's been given me straight from the Lieutenant Governor herself, make it big. And so that's one of my main focuses is increasing the marketing and the communication strategies that are needed to help this program grow. In addition, I felt personally like I was offered a great deal of support. And again, I would say that a lot of that comes from iRelaunch and your participation Carol, in helping the State of Utah get this program off the ground.
But I was just today thinking about, what can I do to support this cohort in a way that they feel as supported as I did. Or that if they have additional concerns that they feel more supported. And one of the things that I'd really like to do is as this Return Utah program expands, and as we have alumni of the program, I really liked to create sort of these mentorship and networking opportunities.
Among the Return Utah group that may over time include people who are participating in return to work programs and the private sector that maybe we partner with some of those organizations. I'm not sure we still have to build it out and figure out all sorts of things. But the great thing is we're, this is a new program and I've been given the directive to just take it and run with it, which is really exciting. And so I want to build out those mentorship roles, the buddy roles, so that people feel supported and that they have a sort of built-in best friend in this program that also becomes a resource for them throughout their career. A mentor, someone they can go to. So that's one of my goals. An additional goal I have is to really help people feel supported.
And in terms of making long-term career decisions, iRelaunch did that for me, a great deal helped me to take stock of where I was in the process and where I wanted to be so that I could make decisions that were best for me and for my family going forward. I mentioned helping the program to grow.
We'd like to expand the program, not necessarily to all of the private sector, but to, in a way that we can help provide tools to companies, corporations, nonprofits, to allow them to create their own return to work programs, or at least have resources as far as what is a returner going through, what is in their head during that first week of their returnship, et cetera, or the first week of their job. So there's a lot of options there. And to be honest, I've, I'm in week, what am I in, week two of this new role? So I was figuring it out and yeah, figuring it out. But so far, with all the meetings I've had thus far, I'm really excited because this program has a lot of opportunity to really grow and to expand Utah's workforce and to really benefit so many people who need that return to work, not just financially, but also for a sense of self, for a sense of confidence for that accomplishment, they may be looking for that opportunity to upgrade their skillset.
There's so many reasons that people may be returning to work. And I'm excited to think that we could maybe be a resource for Utahns in that.
Carol Fishman Cohen: Absolutely. And I would say that the State of Utah and the program is in such great hands with you at the helm leading it, and I'm very excited about your ideas and your energy and vision.
Excited to see what's to come. That's probably a good place for us to wrap up for now. And Shay, I just wanted to thank you so much for joining us today.
Shay Baker: Thank you, Carol. I appreciate it.
Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the Employer Edition. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. iRelaunch is recognized by SHRM to offer professional development credits, PDCs, for SHRM-CP® or SHRM-SCP®, and each episode of our Employer Edition of the 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch podcast is approved for .25 SHRM professional development credits. The activity ID for this episode is 23-TTNNN.
Be sure to check out the irelaunch.com website, where we have a special section dedicated to employers, all sorts of tools and resources, including a section on making the business case for an employer return to work program, which we invite you to cut and paste and use in any proposals that you might be making inside your organization to start a return to work program.
Thanks for joining us.
Approved for .25 Professional Development Credits
iRelaunch is recognized by SHRM to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP® or SHRM-SCP®. Each episode of iRelaunch's 3, 2, 1 Podcast, Employer Edition is approved for .25 Professional Development Credits. To receive the activity ID for each episode, please join our iRelaunch Employer Community Group on LinkedIn for instructions on where to find this ID.