OUTPLACEMENT, or career transition support as it is sometimes called, is very much a Western concept.
An industry was born when an individual who had lost his job discovered there was a need for job seekers like him to receive guidance on how to write a resumé, interview and network effectively, and how generally to do a proper job search exercise.
Since then, the outplacement industry has become a mainstay in corporate America and Europe.
Since the day I stepped foot into this industry some 18 years ago, there have been many changes in the corporate world. I would like to highlight just three.
With the advent of the Internet and e-mail, sending paper resumés is pretty much a thing of the past. Newspapers were once the “go-to” media to source for job leads — these days, you are more likely to log on to their websites, such as www.st701.com, to apply for jobs.
These changes have, in turn, impacted the way professional job searches are done, and consequently the nature of support outplacement firms provide.
While outplacement consultants would advise job seekers of a few years ago to network extensively — networking is still by far the most effective means of landing the next job — much of this was done locally.
These days, networking can be done virtually almost anywhere in the world.
Support as an employee benefit
Not legally mandated, at least in this part of the world, companies provide outplacement support to preserve their image as a preferred employer of choice.
In addition to taking good care of their human talent when they are still employees, they see it necessary to walk-the-talk even at the point of separation.
Some bosses provide the support to ease their conscience but at the end of the day, it could be a win-win situation for both former employer and former employee as outplacement is a practical means of making one’s job loss and career transition less painful.
When service is provided
There are a myriad of corporate changes that could result in job losses. Typically, companies do a regular review of their business needs, competition, and so on, and decide what sort of talent and skills sets are required for the business to continue to do well.
Resulting from such reviews, jobs could be re-designed, requiring a fresh set of skill sets, knowledge, experience and so on.
If job incumbents are short in some of these areas, and there are no other relevant jobs within the organisation, and short-term re-training is not feasible, the management will have little choice but to outplace them.
Changes in senior leadership teams could also result in job loss — sometimes, when a new CEO takes over, he may prefer to bring in his own (known) team members.
Cost-containment, outsourcing, relocation of businesses and functions offshore are some of the more common reasons why jobs are lost. In short, when people lose jobs through no fault of their own, outplacement support may be considered.
What the service covers
In essence, there are two key areas of support that outplacement offers:
• Emotional: This is the hand-holding support that outplacement consultants can provide to their charges. People who have lost their jobs sometimes need a strong pair of shoulders to cry on — literally — and this tends to include men as well as women.
• Practical: This is the other important area that helps outplaced people move forward. It involves sharing knowledge and imparting skills that are required to perform an effective job search, such as marketing documents needed (resumé), marketing e-mail, interview techniques, avenues for job searches and so on.
The support can be aptly described as giving job seekers the skills to fish for a job.
It used to be that outplacement support also included office space — since the participants would not have an office to go to after being made jobless.
However, nowadays this is not really required as most people already have the means and tools to be connected, and most homes have at least one PC or laptop.
Of course, there will be job seekers who prefer not to be in their homes, away from distractions, and to work on their job search exercises in an office environment.
For these people, office space will still be available in an outplacement outfit — and it may be psychologically beneficial too.
A job seeker may feel “more professional” and more confident making a networking call or doing a phone interview when he is dressed in office attire and sitting in an office rather than doing the same activities at home while dressed in shorts and a T-shirt.
Types of programme
There are typically two — individual or one-to-one and group. Increasingly, and this has already happened in the United States (where the industry is mature), outplacement firms are offering “face-less” programmes, where job seekers engage with their consultants via phone and e-mail.
What comes to mind when the term “outplacement” is mentioned these days is the movie Up In The Air, starring George Clooney. In this 2009 movie, the outplacement consultant (Clooney) is portrayed as a jet-setting outplacement consultant, flying thousands of kilometres every month to fire people.
This does not happen in real life. The responsibility of communicating the job loss lies with the direct boss —outplacement specialists come in only after that.
For this reason, though it is less common these days, these specialists are sometimes called “corporate undertakers” — not a nice term at all.
Delivered professionally, outplacement consultants play a useful role in the business world. Change is a constant, we all know that — and with change, jobs come and go.