"Almost Real" Shortcomings of Virtual Outplacement

"Almost Real" Shortcomings of Virtual Outplacement

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Over the past 5 years the outplacement and career services industry has seen dramatic changes. The high fixed cost offerings of traditional outplacement firms have been under assault from a wave of low cost web based services. We have literally started a shift from “bricks” to “clicks”.  Just like death and taxes the proliferation of the concept among Chief Human Resources Officers that outplacement is a “check the box” commodity offering is certainly right around the corner. And so we embrace the age of “Virtual” outplacement with open arms. But of course! Nothing else matters when you start competing on price.  If the economic buyer of outplacement is looking for the lowest cost option and assumes that all offerings are essentially the same, the virtual option seems as satisfactory as every other option. The price is right! Virtual outplacement it would seem is the head usher at the funeral for a guy named “Customer Loyalty”.

Our thought leaders, partners and clients got together to discuss this phenomenon and we agreed on the undeniable fact that virtual is at its best only “Almost Real”. Think about it for a moment. You don’t have to go far to realize the inherent and embedded outrageous guarantee that comes with the virtual outplacement model. Wikipedia will tell you what we found:

“The term has been defined in philosophy as “that which is not real” but may display the salient qualities of the real. Colloquially, virtual is used to mean almost, particularly when used in the adverbial form e.g. “That’s virtually [almost] impossible”. By extension to the original philosophical definition, the term virtual has also come to mean “modeling through the use of a computer,” where the computer models a physical equivalent. Thus, a virtual world models the real world with 3D structures and virtual reality seeks to model reality, enhancing a virtual world with mechanisms for eye and hand movements.”  (Source: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual, Retrieved October 29, 2011)

An interesting parallel in the examination of virtual outplacement services is the use of virtual flight simulator technology to train commercial and military pilots. It is widely acknowledged that these simulators are excellent tools in the training curriculum for pilots.  It is also evident and accepted that these technological tools have inherent limitations. In an October 2007 report from the FAA researchers outlined the following in their opening remarks:

“Yet it remains unproven that skills developed in such training devices improve a pilot’s ability to regain control of an actual airplane during an in-flight upset. Moreover, because of flight simulator limitations such as unrealistic control input responses or lack of control force feedback, the potential for negative training exists. Even Level D flight simulators, for example, are known to present pilots with unreliable models of actual airplane performance when flown near the limits of, or outside of, the normal air transport operating envelope. Finally, almost all ground-based flight simulation devices—including all Level D flight simulators—lack the ability to replicate the high G forces pilots likely will encounter in upset-recovery maneuvering.” (Source: Rogers, Bouquet, Howell & DeJohn (2007) Preliminary Results of an Experiment to Evaluate Transfer of Low-Cost, Simulator-Based Airplane Upset-Recovery Training, Office of Aerospace Medicine, Federal Aviation Administration, Retrieved October 31, 2011 from www.faa.gov)

The question is somewhat obvious.  If some of the most technically advanced virtual flight systems in the world cannot accurately simulate “real world” flight emergencies, how can corporate economic buyers expect that virtual outplacement will adequately prepare those in career transition for the rigors of today’s marketplace? To be fair, virtual flight simulation is quite good and it does make more sense to train on simulators rather than testing it out in real airplanes with real downside consequences. However, career transition and reduction in force situations don’t involve big airplanes and complicated technology. These situations involve people and relationships.

The interesting part of technological innovation is that it can be easily duplicated.  Virtual outplacement too will be under assault from new offerings and innovations in the coming months and years ahead. In the world of outplacement people must be at the center of the engagement. Yes, technology and online resources are important but they should not represent the nucleus of a complete outplacement offering. In the 2010 Outplacement Industry Benchmark Report completed by MacFarlan Lane the study found that managers going through an outplacement program rated six top factors in determining their satisfaction levels with the program.  Technology and web-based tools were noticeably absent from the list. The top two satisfaction factors were:

  1. Ability of the consultant (coach) to actively engage with individuals
  2. An ability to develop shared understanding of capabilities and strengths in the individual

(Macfarlan Lane Career Development Research, Sandra Beanham & Associates, (2010) Outplacement Industry Benchmark Report, Retrieved March 22, 2011 from  http://www.macfarlanlane.com.au/ml-career-development-research/w1/i1001650/)

It is our belief that the best outplacement solutions are relationship based and facilitated by career coaches who can meet a client at their level of need and professional skill. Barton Career Advisors, like many other firms in the outplacement space, leverages technology (CoachOnetoOne™ web-based portal) to better serve our clients.  However, we keep things in perspective. Technology = Tools. Tools ≠ Relationships. Therefore…..Relationships ≠ Technology! Virtual outplacement is “almost real”.  In our opinion, web-based career transition services are a tool, not an outplacement program.


Barton Career Advisors, LLC is a relationship based outplacement and career coaching firm offering premier career transition services to corporations and individuals throughout the US and Canada. The company which is headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware offers flexible outplacement for businesses and career coaching and resume construction for individual clients. The company supports its one to one approach with its innovative career transition portal, CoachOnetoOne™. Through Speaker Services the company works with corporations, professional associations, conferences and non-profits to provide training and key-note presentations on career related topics. Barton Career Advisors employs a need-based business model, BCA One-to-One, which is driven by experience and client outcomes.

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