The “Upside” to Downsizing
“Workplace transition”—which is often a softer term for layoffs or downsizings—is never easy, especially when it stems from actions that occur beyond our control. In business aviation, these “transitions” usually occur due to a reduction in force (RIF) or the shutdown of an entire flight department.
The challenge here is that there’s no crystal ball to tell you if your flight department is at risk. Even if an aviation director has a great connection with the company’s CEO, a downsizing event can occur as a quick decision and without warning. Other times, the key stakeholders within the aviation department may only have a week’s notice to prepare—and rely on help from human resources and/or a specialized outplacement service.
What is Outplacement?
Outplacement typically involves a series of efforts made by a company that is reducing its operations and staff by providing them the tools they need to conduct the most competitive job search. To aid in the process, an outplacement company is retained and paid for by the company that’s downsizing.
The outplacement service offers practical advice and psychological support to transitioning employees. One thing outplacement service is not, however, is an ironclad guarantee that employees will be offered a new job.
When asked what it was like during the outplacement process, one aviation director for a Fortune 500 company told me it was “lonely and chaotic! It felt like I had three full-time jobs: managing the shutdown, providing leadership and support for our staff members who either just lost their jobs (or were going to lose their jobs), and navigating the unemployment waters personally.”
Fortunately for anyone in this situation, outplacement services can be a lifeline; a source of both emotional and psychological support, as well as providing constructive assistance in finding that next great job along one’s career path. In essence, outplacement is about bridging the gap from one job to another and giving employees the right tools to conduct a successful search.
Your Best Foot Forward
API’s outplacement program—called “Your Best Foot Forward”—recognizes that most employees affected by downsizing are ill-prepared for what lies ahead of them. For example, they probably haven’t written a resume in years, and many don’t even have a LinkedIn profile. More than likely, they got their last job with a handshake, and some may not be as familiar with the latest computer software programs.
Because API’s motto is all about people, we’ve really honed our outplacement program to focus on that all-important emotional component. Realizing how far “at sea” they are, many downsized employees fall into depression and despair, which further impedes their ability to move quickly and assuredly in the direction of finding a new job.
Typically, we offer coaching and career support services for a period of two months, with possible extensions as needed. Topics include career guidance and evaluation, resume and cover letter writing, interview preparation, developing networks, job search skills and targeting the job market. We provide clients with job search resources and introduce some alternatives for both short- and long-term employment. In addition, our outplacement participants are encouraged to become API Registered Professionals™, which enables them to be considered for any position that API has been contracted to fill on an exclusive basis.
Ours, however, is not a hand-holding service or a placement service. At API, we firmly believe that the outplacement process is one that should prepare employees to conduct their own job search. Our role is to provide the tools and expertise they need to make the most of any existing opportunities. It’s up to employees themselves to take the initiative to network, as well as present and market themselves to potential employers.
API’s Process and Follow-up
When asked if the API’s outplacement process was helpful, the same Fortune 500 director went on to tell me, “As a leader, there was a comfort knowing that the API team was well-versed in this process. They were counselors, psychiatrists, mentors and friends. The entire process was foreign to me; the support, knowledge and skill exhibited by API was invaluable to our entire team. The structural support for employees was outstanding for things such as constructing and updating resumes and cover letters, to the emotional support and guidance in self-discovery and soul-searching.”
While, as noted, API’s formal program normally lasts two months, that doesn’t mean that we forget about our participants after the contract is over. We understand that, a lot of times, our participants find jobs within the two-month time frame. But when they don’t, we’re prepared to help.
Recently, we worked with a company in the midst of downsizing and, within a three-week period of follow-up, the vast majority of affected employees already had solid jobs lined up. A lot of their success had to do with the level of candidates—they came from a highly reputable flight department. But in cases where finding the next job might take a little longer, API is always ready and willing to accommodate the additional steps.
When I asked the same Fortune 500 director what some of his key takeaways were when it came to outplacement, I found his response to be quite revealing: “I learned that I needed to be better prepared for something like this and that going though it without professional outplacement support would have been incredibly difficult. In the future, I will ensure that my resume and cover letter are kept up-to-date and I will be readily able to discuss my overall contributions to the organization. I also feel a renewed sense of responsibility to our team to ensure that professional development opportunities are provided so they have the ability to position themselves at the top of the talent pool should this situation occur again.”
The Benefits of Outplacement
Probably the biggest benefit an outplacement service provides is that it illustrates your company’s humanity, and shows that you care about your team. You’re not tossing them aside or wiping your hands of them. If a case can be made for operating within an appropriate set of business ethics, then your company will fall on the positive side.
In this world, most large corporations have contracts with large outplacement agencies. In our industry, however, the challenge is that most of these companies don’t speak “aviation.” They don’t understand our climate or culture. They don’t know what an ATP is or an A&P; they don’t know about flight hours, medical certificates and the cost of training. Sure, they can talk about interview techniques, but they can’t provide the tools to put the aviation portfolio together. Most importantly, they lack the proper contacts in the aviation community to give guidance and advice.
And, that’s where we come in.