A New Way to Return to Work: Spotlight on Returnee Ivel Leatheam

Ivel Leatheam spent 10 years working in the fashion industry before taking a break to raise her children. When she decided to return to work nine years later, she used Path Forward as a jumping off point for career re-entry. Ivel’s creative skills made her an excellent candidate for a graphic design returnship at Verisk Analytics, even though graphic design wasn’t a focus of her former career. Now she’s working as a creative direction and design consultant at Plum Practicewear – an athletic fashion line. Here’s her story.

How long were you actively looking for work before applying to a Path Forward return-to-work program?
About six months. I tried other career changes before I found graphic design. I took an interior design class, and even interned with an interior designer. Graphic design didn’t occur to me. It seemed to be a pretty male dominated field.

What was your experience like at Verisk?
Verisk helped me learn a new discipline and a new design program [Adobe’s InDesign]. I had never done graphic design before. It was definitely useful. I worked on creating pamphlets and brochures. The writers would give me copy and then I’d look for images and do layouts. Besides the functional experience, the returnship helped me get back into the rhythm of working. After nine years of being around kids and mommies, I didn’t know the protocol for working in an office again. And if I didn’t know what I was doing, that was ok because my manager and colleagues knew where I was coming from.

It was nice that the company that was giving you a job knew my background, and set expectations based on that. I wasn’t treated like a temp worker or a college student.

What are you most proud of accomplishing during your return to work experience?
I’m happy that I learned a new skill. And I feel like I can do more with my work. Prior to this experience, I wasn’t sure of my ability, which is all creative talent — there’s no right way to do that. Now I feel more empowered and confident in myself to make a decision, and I have more confidence in my creative skills. I built that up more, whereas when I was out of work for so long, I doubted it.

What has been one of the more challenging parts of returning to work?
Just coordinating my life, so I could leave the house and know the kids were taken care of. Finding babysitters and aftercare, things like that were challenging for me.

What has been the most exciting or gratifying part of returning to work?
I was in a much better mood with the kids, because I was seeing them less. It was much more about quality time versus quantity. I felt like “It’s my time now.” I had my own thing going on.

How did the Path Forward program help you in restarting your career?
The return to work experience impressed the people I interviewed with after the returnship ended. They liked that I’d tried something new and I think the experience just overall showed my drive to return to the workforce. And, in the end, it was the graphic design experience that got me noticed for the new job in my old field of apparel.

What advice would you give future returnees?
Try something you’ve never done before and you wouldn’t get a chance to learn otherwise. With all the technology that’s out there, it may feel like we missed the boat, but it’s possible to still learn how to do programming or something like that. I would encourage them to use the returnship to learn a new skill.

You’re now a creative direction and design consultant at an athletic fashion line, what direction are you hoping to take your career next?
I hope I can become a partner in some of the companies I’m freelancing for, that way I can continue to work remotely and be a bigger part of the business, while working from anywhere. I don’t like to be stuck in one specific place.

Thanks for sharing your story, Ivel! We are so happy you’ve found success and balance in your career. – The Path Forward Team

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