The UK outplacement industry traditionally had a reputation for being conservative. Has that changed?

Earlier this year our Chairman, Ian Gooden, celebrated 15 years with Chiumento. We asked him to look back over that decade and a half and reflect on what’s happened since? Here are his thoughts.

I joined Chiumento in 2008. Just before the banking crisis really took hold. Up until then I had always been a client rather than on the supplier side of the industry.

Previous roles had seen me heavily involved in a number of big downsizing exercises – starting way back in the early 1980s. As a buyer, I did have the impression that not much had changed in those 20 odd years – the services on offer looked much the same two and a half decades later. So what;s happened since?

Lots of names have gone

Many of the names that dominated the UK outplacement industry in 2008 have vanished. In many cases they fell on hard times after the boom years of the banking crisis. Chiumento’s outplacement sales doubled between 2008 and 2010 but we knew it was a bubble and planned accordingly. Others struggled to re-size their business when the bubble burst. Lots of acquisitions happened as a result with the biggest getting bigger still.

Today the outplacement landscape globally is dominated by a handful of big players. Typically divisions of major recruitment companies. Chiumento has adapted by becoming even more “customer intimate”. Our scale allows us to be nimble and agile. Customising our offer to individual client needs. We can’t compete on scale – what we do instead is focus on user experience. For clients and individual delegates.

Outplacement is better value than ever

In few sectors are prices lower now than they were in 2008. But that is certainly the case in outplacement. Between 2008 and 2012 the market became hugely price competitive. Firstly that was because employers making volume redundancies in the banking crisis looked for keener prices and could drive a great deal. As the market shrank back in the years that followed, suppliers were desperate for market share. It all drove down pricing.

Today I think clients get more for less. At Chiumento we have completely redesigned our whole outplacement portfolio. And that’s a process that’s still continuing with this day. For example including professional CV writing in most programmes. In 2008 the norm was to send people on a CV workshop after which they’d burn up valueable 1-2-1 time refining their draft with a career coach. Today many delegates have a professionally written CV in days and are job hunting potentially weeks earlier as a result.

That process of service innovation is continuous. Our newest service being JetStream launched in 2022. More on that later…

Offices have lost their allure…

Back in 2008 a lot of the talk in the industry seemed to be focused on having more offices than anyone else. And it is easy to understand why. Many delegates back then didn’t have things like computers or printers at home. We only bought our first home computer in 2007 – its still gathering dust in our loft today. Fax machines were a big thing too. And many, many job advertisements were still appearing in printed media. Plus people needed access to libraries of books and other physical materials.

Chiumento had trialled using video phones – from Amstrad I believe – but they’d never caught on. Reliable platforms like Teams, Zoom and Facetime were some way off. Few people had a proper home office then either.

So meeting rooms, for 1-2-1 coaching and “learning events” were key. An early task I undertook in 2009 was reviewing our meeting room utilisation – which was over 90% across the week. On busy days it was hard to get one.

That all changed over time. By the time I repeated that utilisation exercise again we’d moved to Vigo Street where we had half as many meeting rooms. And utilisation had dropped to around 40%. People just didn’t want to commute into London anymore. The same was true of Oxford and Manchester too. Polling our delegates showed a striong demand for local delivery. One we responded to with hundreds of local delivery points around the UK.

By 2015 it was obvious that offices were no longer a “must have”. Our last one shut in 2017. Today most delegates opt for the convenience of video meetings – not least to avoid travel cost.

Technology has changed more than just how we have meetings…

Today just about every adult has a computer in their pocket – it is called a Smartphone. And people run their lives on them. It is very much a mobile, as much as digital, world. That means on-line user experience is vital.

When Chiumento launced the UK’s first on-line career portal – the Virtual Learning Centre (VLC) – it was very much about making what had been printed materials available on-line. The idea of inter-active e-learning and video content was in its infancy.

With the launch of JetStream we now have a mobile first, app style, user experience unthinkable in 2008. We’ve only just touched the fringes of AI and that will no doubt have a part to play too. Although I am mindful just how much really poor career advice is out there on the net… Making information easily available is different to providing quality advice.

What hasn’t changed?

Our clients are still looking for much the same thing: an outplacement partner that will look after their people. Employer brand and reputation remain high up the HR agenda. Protecting that when letting people go is paramount.

Despite the emergence of globally dominant players, it is still the case that the majority of our in-bound sales enquiries come from organisations looking solely for a UK outplacement solution. We do have the ability to deliver internationally – via our partners at Arbora – but that’s only a small part of the business.

What we’d like to hear are your ideas on “even better if…” What could the outplacement industry do even better in the next decade? Please drop us a line.