Outplacement is dead, long live career transition

Is outplacement dead? With more people using the term ‘career transition’, especially those employers offering redundancy support to their employees, I thought I’d share my views. At Connor, we’ve been delivering outplacement for over 25 years but, truth be told, we’re not fans of the word as it suggests people who are ‘in’ an organisation will be ‘out’ before long.

Outplacement and career transition – a definition

Outplacement is a service that helps people leaving an organisation following a redundancy. Career transition services cover redundancy but also other things like career change, retirement and support for people returning to work after a career break or maternity leave for example.

Today’s multi-generational workforce is more informed and demanding when it comes to career development. So progressive employers need a comprehensive, well communicated range of career transition services if they want to provide best in class support for their employees.

What do HR professionals think?

HR professionals tend to agree that ‘career transition’ is a more accurate way to market the support they give their people than ‘outplacement’. In fact, one of our clients – a county council – asked us not to use the word ‘outplacement’ in all communications to their employees, something we happily did for them.

Irrespective of whether services are pitched as ‘outplacement’ or ‘career transition’, it is crucial for the HR function to get the communication and timing right. If awareness or take-up is low, organisations risk wasting their investment in this support.

Face to face presentations and other onsite communications like posters, coupled with more innovative approaches like employer branded video content are all techniques that we adopt to ensure employees engage with our services.

The sooner you mention the career support you offer, the sooner every employee understands what value it can bring to them. In reality, many of your people will react negatively to any change they face – particularly if it ends with a redundancy or an alteration to their working conditions. If you are managing a collective consultation for example, introducing career transition services can inject positivity by allowing those affected to turn their focus to the future.

One Connor client saw this first hand as their first outplacement workshop created a buzz among employees and stimulated increased attendance at the subsequent ones. “After the workshops we got lengthy emails from our people saying how good they were. When any organisation goes through change you are looking for these glimmers of light. It was a massive boost to everyone.” explained a member of their HR team.

What does the future look like?

Very different. Men and women retiring with a final salary pension at 65 and 60 respectively is largely a thing of the past. What’s more, the government is planning further increases, which will raise the state pension age from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028. Retirement is becoming increasingly complex. It can be voluntary or involuntary, gradual or sudden and it can be temporary or permanent. Retirement coaching and planning continues to be a concern and consideration for an increasing number of the individuals that we support.

For employers – particularly large ones – the ability to help employees to transition from one part of the business to another or to develop expertise in new areas. Consider this response from the HR director at one of our clients when I asked him why they were making redundancies. “It isn’t a reflection of their performance – quite the opposite – we are letting very good employees go. Certain individuals and teams have skillsets that are less relevant while others do similar things so we need half as many people in certain areas to avoid duplication of effort.”

In the future, more employers will provide career change support to help valued people move within their organisation. Why not help a developer with a logical approach to tasks and great attention to detail to become a project manager? How about supporting a marketing manager who enjoys the thrill of making a sale and has fabulous interpersonal skills to become part of your business development team? Providing a blend of coaching and mentoring will make this career transition possible, saving employers time and money and rewarding loyal, high potential employees.

At Connor, we offer career coaching for our clients and it is something that is increasingly in demand. Career coaching is a sequence of thoughtfully worked out meetings, conducted with a peer level consultant, where we help people better understand their knowledge, skills and aspirations. We re-engage with employees to identify the environment and role that will make them shine most brightly, thus maximising the talent within your company.

When I mention career coaching to our clients, I can get a puzzled look from them. But once I reveal the types of people that can benefit, there is normally a realisation of how it can help. People who have an upcoming role or project challenge, people who have lost their spark, people who are high potential ‘flight’ risks and people not performing in their current role are just a few examples. In reality, suitable candidates fit into two or three of these areas.

Summing up

So, is outplacement dead? Not really, no. It is still vital that HR teams offer redundancy support. Employers are moving away from using agencies and placing a greater reliance on internal recruitment models. Employees, particularly long-tenure ones and senior executives, need help navigating this landscape. Outplacement consultants can support these sorts of direct applications by helping with cover letters, tailored CVs and with salary and benefits negotiations.

But does your current proposition also help people to move within your organisation, consider and plan for retirement or return to work after a career break or maternity leave? If not, then think about how well you are supporting career transition in its broadest sense.

Connor helps organisations and individuals with career transition. We can support people at every level in all types of organisations – from SMEs to large, international brands.

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