The New World of Outplacement

I wrote an article for HR Zone on how I see outplacement changing and why we created MyNewJob.me.  As one needs to register to read HR Zone articles I reproduce it below.  I hope you find it of interest.  I am convinced that this is the way the market is going.

Outplacement is changing. What was once predominantly a service designed for a relatively small number of senior executives is now a mass market offering. The problem is that although the name has remained the same the available budget has considerably changed. No longer are several thousand pounds per person available. It is now, at best, several hundred pounds and as budget is trimmed, so too is the service provided.

What used to be fairly comprehensive job search support and guidance has been replaced by a brief one-to-one, attendance at several lectures, a few handouts and a pat on the back. A couple of years ago this would have been disappointing but not a major issue as job opportunities abounded. Now the world has changed. Each job seeker is competing with 50 to 150 others per role and with these odds, the enthusiastic but unprepared candidate is in for a rude shock. Numerous unacknowledged applications later, despondency sets in and it does not take that many months before a previously gainfully employed person becomes a member of the long term unemployed.

I don’t think it is realistic to call for larger outplacement budgets. A few years ago job losses were often the consequence of M&A activity and the overlaps created by a merger. Cash was abundant and outplacement was just one of the many deal costs that were accepted as one-off exceptional items. Now employers are shedding staff to cope with threatening financial pressures and the need to slash costs includes the overall severance budget.

Some years ago I was involved in the transition of recruitment from a largely paper based process to an automated and online one. It was fascinating to see an established methodology overturned by a set of technologies that transformed the speed, quality, consistency, efficiency and costs of a process. I believe that outplacement is now undergoing the same change and soon the process will be very different from what we have been used to.

The advice and guidance that has typically been provided by an outplacement consultant can now be received through on-demand e-learning. Many of the laborious tasks that a job-seeker has to undertake can now be automated.  Examples include searching for and aggregation of vacancies, or identification of relevant employment sources.  Wizards with attractive templates make CV creation considerably easier than used to be the case. Process automation means that job search activities can be tracked, reminders provided and reports generated. Triggers can monitor activity and provide encouragement and advice based on what a person has done, or indeed not done.

Effective outplacement can now be provided through technology. Clearly there are huge cost advantages. Also, unlike traditional outplacement online programmes can be swiftly scaled and there are no logistical challenges in commencing the service. There are also no practical limits on resource provision. With traditional outplacement service availability is rationed according to the budget, however a technology solution can be accessed 24/7 and provision is not constrained.

We have also uncovered some unexpected benefits. Most job seekers want to immediately ‘get stuck in’ and energetically commence their job search. An on-demand online process lends itself to this as individuals can use the service for as many hours as they want and do not need to wait for the next scheduled workshop. We are seeing considerable usage in the evenings as people at home do their research and create job applications.

Another characteristic that we had not predicted is control. Being made redundant can be a major emotional blow.  In addition to the worry about the future, someone else has decided that your job is coming to an end and you have to leave the organisation. This is a major loss of control. Traditional consultant delivered outplacement can reinforce this as the job seeker is once again thrown into a process and told what to do and when to do it. Having the assistance on demand as a web delivered service returns control to the job seeker. The individual can choose what to do, when to do it and how much to do. This is very important to a significant proportion of online outplacement users.

Of course it is not all plain sailing with online delivery. People made redundant typically want some human contact. This will often be a cathartic discussion of their plight rather than a practical job search process discussion. Another area is that a proportion of people are far less active in their job search than common sense and market knowledge suggest they should be. I am not sure that this is unique to an online solution. It may just be that with a technology platform there is the data on individual activity that does not exist with a conventional process.

I believe that the next couple of years will be very interesting for the sector. A slowly recovering economy will result in relatively high unemployment, job market volatility and competition for jobs. Large numbers of people will require assistance with their job search and technology will be the only way of cost-effectively meeting this demand. New and improved services will emerge and we will see innovation in a market that for many years has changed little.