Outplacement agencies turn counsellors to manage career transitions




By Devina Sengupta & Shreya Roy, ET Bureau | 31 Dec, 2013, 06.20AM IST

MUMBAI/ BANGALORE: Layoffs on a mass scale may be a couple of years behind us, but outplacement agencies continue to have their job cut out for them. From just finding retrenched employees other job opportunities, these agencies are taking up roles of counsellors, with a focus on career transitions for executives coping with life changes and moving to newer businesses.  

"The days when multinationals fired in hundreds are gone. From 650 layoffs in one company we are looking at 100 at the most. Therefore mere outplacement will not help us survive and we have to offer services like career transition," says Chaitali Mukherjee, country manager for Right Management, the outplacement arm of Manpower India. 

Outplacement services are provided by a company, through agencies, to senior-level executives when there is a need to lay them off. The focus earlier was to just to help them find another job. But during career transitions it is about finding the best job fit. 

Psychometric tests are now administered, alongside coaching for three to six months. And keeping in mind that older employees may not have kept pace with changes in the job hunting process over the past few years, coaching on the use of social media, tweaking profiles on websites such as LinkedIn, and briefings on the business environment in other industries has also become a distinct responsibility. 

Hiring outplacement agencies makes companies enter the wish list of future candidates. "In 2008, it was a reaction to a distress in the economy, and focus was on costs, but now there is a marked slowdown

Companies are aware that this is a situation that will get reversed going forward, and firms will need to hire back," says Sunil Goel, managing director of GlobalHunt

Right Management recently helped middle managers move from BFSI  .. to healthcare and from media to instructive design sector. Some senior executives have even become entrepreneurs and Right Management helps them get in touch with the entrepreneurial community. 

When a Bangalore-based IT product maker let go of 230 employees this May, they used an outplacement firm, says a former senior executive who does not wish to be named. The outplacement duration was 60-90 days and the company was sent a report card on the success rate. "At least 30% of them wer .. of them were placed," says the former executive. This is part of the global deal and company pays outplacement charges of around $1,000 per candidate. 

Intel too uses outplacement agencies. "If not in terms of finding immediate employment, it helps to have such services in place to help employees adjust to the developments," says Preethi Madappa, director, human resources, South Asia Intel. 

For the agencies, business has been growing. Close to 15% of Global Hunt's business comes from outplacement, and the market for these services has been doubling each year. Companies that use their services belong to sectors spanning technology, high-end engineering, telecom, investment banking and research and development. 

The sluggish economy has also made these outplacement agencies work as counsellors. They have to keep candidates' hopes afloat and ensure they update their skills. "T .. "The success rate is 25% to 30% in terms of immediate placement. 

For the remainder, it is about mentally disengaging from the current role into the new state of being, and adjusting with society post the event of getting laid off," says Aditya Narayan Mishra, president staffing, director marketing, Randstad India. BTI Consultants gets counsellors from its Malaysian counterpart to engage with candidates while the outplacement work is still on. For the top brass, outplacement takes at least six months, middle management needs four months while the lower order gets placed in a couple of months. 

However, the general outlook and stigma attached to layoffs are a huge block. While Adecco sees more Indian firms warming up to the concept of career transition and seeking their help, Right Management says there is still some distance to go.

“The days when multinationals fired in hundreds are gone. So mere outplacement

will not help us survive,” an official at an outplacement agency said. 

"MNCs are mandated by guidelines to provide outplacement services but Indian firms still believe that paying a severance package is enough. Now that layoffs are done by Indian companies, not all are employing these services," says Right Management's Mukherjee.