Service to help workers deal with change is also changing

Transition service helps employees consider options

When Domtar announced last month the closing of its mills in Ontario and Quebec as well as the selling of a mill in Vancouver, its message to the 1,800 workers affected was they would not only get financial assistance but also access to outplacement services.

Steam fitter Rickard Brunet, who joined the company 29 years ago, said news of the layoffs didn’t come as a surprise, though he didn’t anticipate how drastic the job cuts would be. Since last December, when the papermaker eliminated 390 positions, Brunet had been thinking about his job prospects.

“I have a trade, I have a ticket, so I might have a better opportunity than some of the other guys who just work on the paper machines. I’m going to look around my area and the Ottawa area, but I might go out west. I’m still too young to retire,” said the 48-year-old working at Domtar’s Cornwall, Ont., plant.

In looking around for the next gig, Brunet is counting on the help provided through an outplacement service. “I hope they’ll help try to place some of us or at least show us what’s out there.” What’s more, as someone who hasn’t had to look for a job for nearly three decades, Brunet said he could use help doing resumés.

The outplacement help being offered Brunet has long been a standard during mass layoffs. However, there are indications that this type of outplacement service is changing. With the rise of coaches, career advisors and the many variations of career management help for workers, the basic help in resumé writing and job searching is looking passé.

Barbara Moses, a Toronto author on career management and self-defined “coach for the career coaches,” said she hears the market has been getting tougher for outplacement firms.

“There are many reasons, not least is the fact that today, a lot of the skills people need in terms of making a career transition are the ones they’ve already acquired through on-the-job career management. And many people have gone through this more than once. They’ve been laid off many times,” said Moses.

“The other reason is there’s a lot more competition for the service. Coaches are doing it, career counsellors are doing it. Everybody thinks it’s a potentially lucrative market.”

Numbers elusive

Numbers on the prevalence of outplacement services are difficult to come by. A 2003 DBM survey of 1,200 senior HR executives in the United States and Canada, 88 per cent of whom had experienced a downsizing within the previous five years, produced a list of top five benefits of outplacement services — but no number on how many of them use such services.

Likewise, a global survey of nearly 3,700 people and 212 employers conducted in 2004 and 2005 by Right Management Consultants covered a broad range of topics, from how people perceived their former employers to what value employers found in offering outplacement. However, there was no question as to how many employers offered such services and how often.

Monika Morrow, regional managing principal for Eastern Canada at Right, said, in her experience, it’s standard practice among the top 500 companies in Canada to offer help to exiting employees. It’s also standard in situations of large job losses.

However, “it’s not a standard practice” to offer outplacement help when employees are let go from small- and medium-sized employers, which represent the bulk of the Canadian economy. Instead, Morrow said, it’s typically a decision based on cost, on an individual’s need and on the individual’s tie with the company.

“Because the massive layoffs have a much bigger impact on the community, a much bigger impact on the remaining employees, and a much more visible impact on a company’s reputation as a good corporate citizen, therefore it becomes even more important to provide a service to those who are leaving,” said Morrow.

In recent years, outplacement has been morphing into a different kind of service, one more appropriately termed “career transition,” said Mark Venning of Oakville, Ont.-based Change Rangers.

Whereas success used to be defined as landing a new job, individuals now are more willing to explore their next career move.

“Now it’s, ‘I have lots of options. The last time I had career transition services was five years ago, and now I want to explore career options differently. I don’t want to go back to the jobs that I had. I want to explore,’” said Venning, also an international chair of the Association of Career Professionals International.

“‘I might want start my own business or re-educate myself and start a new career. I might want to start a contracting business or go into consulting.’ There are all these different variations now.”

Changes to come

Venning ventured that “the next evolution” will be the merging of career transition and talent management.

“The career transition thing is maturing. Sure we can still deliver something like helping someone with a basic work search. It’s about helping organizations and individuals develop themselves through the life cycles of employment. So if you’re helping organizations, some of us are going in and helping with assessments for hiring the right people. And some of us will be helping individuals market themselves and build longer-term strategies.”

Morrow added that in her experience, the top employers are increasingly asking for more comprehensive services, which would include a combination of one-on-one coaching, networking events, sessions on job market research and aptitude and interest assessments.

“We still get companies that say, ‘Well, these folks only need to know how to write a resumé and how to interview.’ But that is not as prevalent as ‘We really want you to work with these people and helping them find out what the next step would be in their career,’” said Morrow.

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