Article from The Straits Times, 09 January 2016

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The Straits Times
January 9 2016

Evolution of the Outplacement Industry

The world has changed quite a fair bit since the last time I took a look.   The way businesses are conducted these days have also changed, compared to say a decade ago.   Here in Singapore, cab booking and grocery shopping are just two examples.  Almost everyone knows about the likes of Grabtaxi, Uber, and RedMart.  Not only do they know about it, many have embraced these latest avenues of booking a taxi and shopping for groceries and our personal needs on-line.
The outplacement industry has not been spared from the changes, which continue abounded.

Size of the industry
A couple of sentences on what is outplacement is useful here, I suspect, as it continues to be mis-represented as a ‘sort of’ counselling service.  It is, typically, a company-paid benefit given to employees who are impacted by business changes resulting in job loss.  The twin objectives of outplacement support is to provide both emotional and practical support to impacted employees to smoothen their exit from the company, and support them during their career transition.
I see small signs of self-sponsored programs but do not expect this to be an additional revenue stream for outplacement vendors in the foreseeable future.
Compared to the time when I first set foot into this industry – which is a good 16 years ago -there are now, both globally and here in Asia, fewer players.  Not that some of them have folded shops, but the real reason is some of the medium and smaller-sized firms have been gobbled up by the larger players.  The size of the global industry is an estimated USD1B.

Content of Outplacement Support Program
From its heydays of providing emotional support to those who have been retrenched, and resume writing services, the type of outplacement services has also morphed into a difference creature.
Emotional support is still required in some assignments, though many of those that we counsel seem to be able to cope with their job loss better, having gone through the experience before.  Some have even gone through it more than once.
In addition to resume writing, outplacement coaches must now be able to value- add in the following key areas:- 
-         Networking – the most effective way to find a job is through networking. Unfortunately,  many find themselves not knowing too many people outside their job and employer domains, nor recruiters - nor are they known by recruiters. Many clients now take it as a given that their appointed outplacement coach has a wide network of contacts to share with their ex-employees.
-         Career coaching – the coach is expected to bring the client to a point where all possible options are on the table.  The path of least resistance for most displaced employees is to attempt to return to the same type of job i.e. to find a similar role.  This is not wrong per se, but there needs to be efforts taken to identify other career paths.  The responsibility of deciding which path/s to eventually explore will, of course, rest on the client’s shoulder.
-         Securing another job is just half the success – the other half is being able to assimilate and settle down well in the new job and at the new workplace.  The coach should continue to be available for this important phase of the transition journey.   Joining a new company, working with new colleagues, and being successful in the new job frequently pose challenges, and the coach’s role is to support the client to the point of employment confirmation – typically three to six months.
-         Given the volatility of the business world, there is a need for everyone to have a Plan B – my definition of what we do when we are no longer able to find a job.  Given longevity and better health care, people tend to have a longer life span.  Unfortunately, many of us will be in our 50’s or early 60’s when we have to leave the corporate world – there are many more good years to live.  What we do not want to have is a situation where we have nothing meaningful to do with our available time.  Of course, for some of us, we may not want to work as hard as we did when we were younger, or as many hours as we used to.  Plan B allows us to keep our minds and bodies active, at a pace that we feel most comfortable with.

-         It is during times like a job loss that a strong support infrastructure becomes important. Family members can, and must play a key role in understanding and appreciating the emotional challenges of the person who have lost his job involuntarily and wishes to get back into an employment situation. Outplacement coaches can also extend a helping hand by engaging with key family members.  Consciously or unconsciously, family members may impose additional pressure and stress to their loved ones, and with the request of the client, the coach can try to intervene.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the industry cannot get away from the influence of technology. In fact over in the US, e-outplacement programs are available.  From the paying client’s perspective, there will be some attractiveness in these comparatively priced support, but the degree of effectiveness is a question up for debate. In this high-touch business of outplacement support, I have my doubts.
Program pricing
Business costs is always a key consideration of paying clients in deciding which vendor gets to support their employees. The industry is not spared from the tight fisted procurement professionals who increasingly are now the initial hurdle for vendors to jump over, unlike the days when the decision come from human resource directors, who tends to better appreciate the importance of the quality of support versus the company’s financial investment.
Unfortunately, many of the procurement folks manage outplacement program quotations in the same manner as they would vetting quotations for goods/products. We can argue until the cows come home but at the end of the day, they have to do what they are paid to do i.e. to manage business costs.  For sure, our margins are getting thinner and at the same time, client expectations have arisen as shared earlier.
Governmental involvement
Singapore’s Ministry for Manpower has been actively supporting the retrenched.  Starting with the establishment of the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) in 2003. Since then, a few other sub-agencies have come into being e.g the Lifelong Learning Institute, with related agendas to support the working class – the key focuses being re-employment and maintaining employability.
In a manner of speaking, it would not be wrong to call these ‘public outplacement agencies’.  Their continued involvement will provide much value to Singaporeans.

Paul Heng
NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia

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