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Helping hand with switching careers

Most people who lose their jobs concentrate on finding a new one. They are often stressed, when they don’t get a new position straightaway and tend to go for what they can get, usually in the same sort of business.

This is not the best approach. The odds are that you are throwing away an unparalleled opportunity to take stock and work out what you want to do. After 25 years at the coalface, a change might be welcome. Or it could mean sticking to the same industry but taking a different direction.

Stuart Lindenfield at Reed Consulting said it was crucial not to pass up the chance to reassess your career. “It’s certainly wrong to assume that departing managers will want to continue doing what they’re doing,” he said. He cited the example of one redundancy situation, in which about half the people involved were willing to consider doing something different.

One client, who was the IT director of a large company, admitted he had always fantasised about teaching IT to teenagers. Could Lindenfield, co-author of Confident Networking for Career Success and Satisfaction, put him in touch with the right people'

The client ended up on a two-year teaching course and now has a successful new career.

For many years outplacement and transition support has been used by organisations to help fulfil their legal obligations when employees have been made redundant, in the hope that they will soften the impact while helping former staff to rebuild their careers.

Lindenfield points out that there have been reports of a major change, however. “The number of individuals receiving outplacement support has increased by 50 per cent over the past two years,” he said. This has been caused by a number of trends converging. Companies are trying to operate with as few people as possible, while there is more demand for people with creative skills. And employers are having to think very carefully about how they treat people who leave.

When Bankhall Investment Associates started a reorganisation programme last year, a conscious decision was taken that it had a duty of care to the employees who were leaving.

“We wanted to do something that offered flexibility to different groups of employees,” said David Scott, Bankhall’s personnel director. “It was important that we were making sure we were doing everything we could.”

The firm ran a number of in-house workshops at Reed Consulting, outlining what support was available. Topics included improving interviewing techniques and upgrading CVs, tailored to the needs of each individual. Scott said it was always hard for employees who had lost their jobs to give their opinions, but reactions so far had been fairly enthusiastic.

Reed’s survey of employers’ reactions revealed there were many reasons they were willing to offer outplacement help, apart from the moral obligation. In the event of a firm having to make redundancies, there is always the risk that its reputation will be damaged. A total of 78 per cent of survey respondents felt the provision of outplacement could improve the organisation’s reputation while 55 per cent believed outplacement could help it to be seen as an employer of choice.

It may seem odd to link redundancy and retention programmes, but respondents to the survey felt that the provision of outplacement support helped the employer retain and motivate those staff not directly affected. “It is a commonly held view that up to 25 per cent of top performers leave an organisation within 90 days of a major change announcement being made,” said Lindenfield.

“The survey showed that when employers offered outplacement support, 55 per cent of respondents agreed that providing employment support for staff you no longer need helped you to retain those that you do (need).”

Managers who had to make employees redundant also benefited from the outplacement programmes, he said.

More than 70 per cent of employers believe that offering outplacement helps line managers to shed staff with a clearer conscience, and 87 per cent of those interviewed felt that it eased the pressure on them.

It also helped people to assess their career prospects more realistically. One respondent commented on how valuable he thought the support was. His view was that, properly handled, outplacement help gave departing employees the chance to consider doing something they really enjoyed, sometimes for the first time in their working lives.

The survey also showed that people being made redundant were most often given help with their new careers by outside specialists: about half of the employers questioned used only external providers while 81 per cent engaged some help from outsiders.

Successful outplacement support is a specialist activity and practitioners need a clear grasp of the emotional support that employees and managers may require during what can be a time of dramatic change, as well as the more technical and practical knowledge of jobseeking and assessment.

“Independent and impartial consultancy support helps them to develop a more realistic sense of their career possibilities,” said the study.

The provision of support is clearly expanding. When respondents were asked how much they thought the need for outplacement would grow in the coming year, only 22 per cent said that they thought it would fall while the other 78 per cent saw it increasing or staying at current levels.

©The Daily Telegraph

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