Coaching at Work, June 2010

This article first appeared in Coaching at Work.

Coaching at Work article

coaching at work“The economic downturn should generate more business for outplacement coaches. So what type of services are they offering, and just how useful are they?” asks John Charlton.

If most people are still coping with the fall out of recession, then outplacement (OP) services providers are some of the lucky few. For them redundancies mean more clients.

Layoffs, according to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs figures, cost UK employers £6 billion in redundancy payments last year, with individuals receiving an average of £12,500 each. And next on the redundancy hitlist is the public sector, expected to suffer large job losses after the coming election.

Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA) president Gillian Hibberd says: “The demand [for OP services] is likely to increase as more and more public sector organisations implement the radical changes they need to balance their books.”

Some players in the OP market also say they expect demand for their services from the public sector to rise. Richard Allberg, founder and boss of online OP service, says he’s “doing a lot of presentations” to civil service and government management and HR about what his company can offer.

HR services giant Penna says it is experiencing “significant interest from the public sector – local government, central government and the NHS have all registered interest”.

Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management (PCM), says OP has grown so much in the past couple of years that PCM has opened new offices nationwide and “substantially” expanded its team.

Michael Moran, chief executive of coaching specialist Fairplace, says it provided OP advice for 8,000 individuals in 2009, double the number in 2008.

What is outplacement?

OP originated in the 1960s. It provides employees who have lost their jobs with services designed to get them back into the workplace.

Services vary, as do fees, but the types of resources include: career coaching, CV and interviewing techniques advice, access to online help such as job search facilities, use of IT equipment and access to expertise on how to go self-employed or set up your own business.

Some OP providers also look after the nuts and bolts issues of redundancy and advise employers how to lay off staff legally – and caringly. They may also counsel staff who survive shakeouts.

But OP coach John Lees, head of Cheshire-based specialist Lees Associates, does not believe that redundancies per se drive the market. “OP does well when there’s plenty of reorganisation and restructuring,” he says.

Lees, who has a background in recruitment and selection, has conducted OP coaching for the past 10 years. Incidentally, he says that the job is OP coaching, not counselling, though others also call it career coaching.

He says finding work as an OP coach is challenging. “It’s a sellers’ market because an awful lot of people who were recruiters are now trying to find work as OP coaches. It is a small world and not easy to break into. Often the best way is indirect, such as through career coaching at a business school.”

Mills says the job market for OP coaches is “patchy”. “Online auctions – by customers – for bids for OP contracts have driven down market rates and demand for career coaches,” she says. “I’ve heard some OP services providers are using supply teachers instead of career coaches.”

What are the skills?

Obviously OP coaches need very good people skills and must be able to ask penetrating questions and anticipate outcomes. More specifically, psychometric assessment skills and qualifications may be appropriate, as well as excellent knowledge of CV formatting, the ability to advise on interviewing and presentation and how to use networks.

And nowadays it’s almost essential that OP coaches know their way around recruitment websites.

“The best people,” says Lees “tend to have HR, recruitment selection or occupational psychology backgrounds. If you don’t have at least one of those three it would be difficult to find work.”

“You need to have had coaching training, ideally in career coaching,” says Mills. “You also need substantial experience of recruitment and an extensive knowledge of job search techniques. You will need business credibility, ideally working at a senior level within organisations or in a relevant role such as HR or headhunting. Career counselling skills are also helpful. Direct experience of working with individuals in career transition is necessary.”

Fairplace’s Moran says his firm’s “minimum requirement” to be a career coach includes:

  • An appropriate counselling qualification, such as attendance at Robert Nathan’s career counselling course.
  • Experience of the industry in which the client comes from or wishes to work in.
  • Recent experience of recruitment.
  • Training in the “tools of our trade”. Typically this means British Psychological Society levels A and B in the use of pyschometrics, as well as 360-degree feedback.
  • A continuous professional development (CPD) plan.

Such skills come into play in coaching sessions, which tend to fall into two main areas: diagnostics and development of a client action plan.

Lees says the diagnostic session may include profiling, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and discussions and agreements about what the client sees as a good outcome, their income expectations, whether they’ll consider relocation and what their skills and values are.

The next stage is CV formatting and an action stage where the client plans, with the coach, how they will conduct their job search.

Key questions could include:

“How do you feel about what’s happening to you?”, which Lees says will “unpack a lot of emotional baggage”.

“How are you going to start talking to people?”

“Who do you know that you can talk to?”

The aim is to get the client to think about networking – a key weapon in a difficult job market.

Moran says Fairplace puts so much emphasis on networking that it gives specific advice on how clients can use the business networking site LinkedIn.

So, those looking to find work as an OP coach really do need to know social and business networking sites as well as recruitment sites.

This also indicates a future direction for OP services – they could become largely an online service.

That’s the tack taken by just such a service, It charges a flat fee of £250 per person for 18 months’ access to its OP service. Founder Allberg says its clients are largely non-corporate and often come via Jobcentre Plus.

“Technology will fundamentally change the OP market,” he says. “Everything we do is less expensive [than conventional providers].”

The online service provides CV formatting, access to a wide range of recruitment sites, including those of employers who are hiring, and email and workflow handling.

Allberg says the service will also generate a report of job hunting activities for clients on benefits. Jobcentre Plus pays for many of’s clients. Those who want time with a coach pay extra.

Major OP players also provide online support. The Connect Team and Penna, for example, provide password-protected access to extensive online resources, including job search facilities.

But care must be taken to ensure that clients accessing systems from home are able to do so.

Brian Goodwin, a journalist who lost his job last autumn and subsequently attended an OP service, said he saw no point continuing after the first session, especially after its online job search crashed his computer system.

“I also didn’t think the job search facility was appropriate for specialists,” he says.

Coaches should also watch out for warning signs of disengagement from the OP process. “Once they start talking about decorating and golf you know you’ve lost them,” says Lees.

Case studies: what clients really think


The Connect Programme (TCP) provided an OP programme for Royal Liver Group from March to December 2009. It involved more than 300 staff: 155 in the UK and 150 in the Republic of Ireland, including insurance premium collectors, HR and IT, admin and senior managers and directors.

The OP followed Royal Liver’s decision to discontinue house-to-house collection of insurance premiums in favour of direct debit and electronic transfer. This meant that collection jobs and their supporting functions went.

The programme included an introduction, followed by conventional OP support in group workshops, and one-to-one and/or workshops on “Preparing for Retirement”.

Nicola Foster, HR business partner for the Royal Liver Group, says: “We have had very positive feedback from those that have attended the workshops.”


Journalist James Brooker was made redundant at the end of last year and is taking part in OP with a major provider. He has had three one-hour sessions with his OP coach.

“The first session was really a diagnostic exercise. The coach asked how I felt about losing my job, how my self-esteem was, what aspirations I had and so on. I was then given online access to a range of services, including a job search function and various papers and videos on interview techniques, finding work and research. There were also presentations on topics such as running your own company and image. I was offered the use of PC, internet and printing services, but as most people have IT facilities at home I’d say that’s of limited value for many, though it does get you out of the house.”

Web links

Career Counselling Services
Personal Career Management
Public Sector People Managers’ Association
Resonate Coaching
John Lees Associates
Centre for Coaching runs a redundancy coaching course

Click here for more on the origins of OP

This article first appeared in Coaching at Work, June 2010.