Radha Arvind is delighted that insurance giant MetLife has given her a chance to prove she can be a valued employee even though it’s been seven years since she last worked as a software engineer.
“A seven-year gap in technology is a huge gap,” said Arvind, 40, of Cary, whose absence from the workforce was triggered by the need to return home to her native India to take care of elderly parents and in-laws who were ailing.
Arvind, who returned to the U.S. in October, is one of 13 interns in MetLife’s Act2 program, a paid internship designed for experienced workers who have been out of the workforce for an extended period.
Of those 13 interns, six are based in the company’s new Cary campus, where it has more than 1,000 workers, and three are in Charlotte. Both sites have been in hiring mode since MetLife received a state incentives package worth more than $94 million two years ago in exchange for investing $125.5 million investment and creating more than 2,600 jobs – split evenly between Cary and Charlotte.
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The 10-week Act2 internship is, in effect, an extended audition for a full-time job. Those who meet expectations and perform well receive job offers.
Last year, when Act2 made its debut as a pilot program, 11 of the 12 interns brought aboard received job offers. That included six interns at the two N.C. sites.
“We were amazed at how well it went and the quality of talent we were able to attract and bring into our organization,” said Jim O’Donnell, MetLife’s chief technology officer for global technology and operations and an Act2 executive sponsor.
The program was designed to bring “a really untapped pool of talent” into the corporate fold, said O’Donnell.
It’s also a tacit recognition that corporate recruiters besieged with applicants may pass over talented job candidates who haven’t worked for a good while – for whatever reason.
Some interns view Act2 as a lifeline.
“It is a blessing,” said Camille Harris, 57, of Raleigh. “I can’t speak highly enough of it.”
Harris, who was laid off from her job as a program manager for software projects a little more than two years ago, was having difficulty finding another job before being accepted into this year’s internship program. She suspects her age was an impediment.
“I’m not using that as an excuse, but it was a contributing factor,” she said.
Holice Robertson’s career of 20-plus years in information technology, including stints at Hewlett-Packard and AT&T, was put on hold in November 2011 when he was diagnosed with myeloma, a blood cancer, and his doctors told him he had just three months to live.
Roberts couldn’t even walk for six or seven months and was confined to bed. But, with the benefit of chemotherapy, he beat cancer.
Once he got his strength back and started looking for work early last year, Roberts was anxious that prospective employers might take a pass because of the gap on his resume and questions about whether he was truly ready to return to work.
So, when he learned about Act2 last year, he applied and was accepted. At the end of his internship, he was offered a job as an IT project manager in Cary and has been working there ever since.
“I knew it was just a matter of having the opportunity, which the Act2 program gave me,” said Robertson, 50, of Apex.
When MetLife was devising how Act2 would work, the company studied return-to-work programs offered by other employers that, in O’Donnell’s view, have had “mixed success.”
One point of differentiation for Act2, said spokeswoman Yvette Marmur, is that from the outset the interns “are actually filling a real position in the company” — the same job that will be theirs if their performance is up to snuff.
That’s also one of the reasons why interns are paid “market rate” for their efforts based on their roles.
“Having someone come in for 10 weeks and not paying them, we thought, was not the right thing to do,” O’Donnell said. “The other thing is, they are generating value for our company right from the get-go. They are contributing. They are working on projects.”
At the same time, however, the interns are offered the tools they need “to get up to speed,” said Caroline Schuster, director of global talent acquisition and program leader for Act2.
That includes any training they may need, a coach who can answer job-related questions and a mentor who can help them “understand how to navigate the organization ... and how to be successful at MetLife,” she said.
“If you try to ride a bike after a long gap,” said Arvind, “you know you can ride a bike but still you do not have the balance yet, right? This MetLife Act2 program is like (training wheels) so you don’t fall down. They support you.”
This week, MetLife will let will let each of this summer’s crop of interns know whether they’ve passed their audition and will be hired full-time.
“So far ... they have done a fabulous job,” Schuster said. “My desire is that we will be extending an offer to each and every one.”