Outplacement Services – An Industry Overview

The outplacement services industry has existed in one form or another for many decades. The trends have moved back and forth from job search counseling to resume development to career management, presented through a variety of avenues from individual coaching to group seminars to online education. The most recent paradigm focused on one-on-one coaching, primarily a result of the booming economy in which quality candidates had their pick of jobs. However, the recovery from this recession is changing the landscape of business and the workforce, and the outplacement services industry is going to have to transform again to keep up with the needs of displaced workers.

The primary services of most outplacement services companies involve sprucing up the resume and providing networking contacts. Recruiting firms and consultants presently dominate the industry, using their rolodexes of specific-industry contacts to match corporate needs with employee skills. Unfortunately, the jobs are quite scarce right now, and these recruiters are overloaded with quality resumes and no place to send them.

The one-on-one coaching so popular just a few years ago is obsolete…finding the perfect job is less of an issue than simply finding a regular paycheck. Employers can afford to be more particular than ever, and a few well-placed job ads will get them sufficient response to find exactly what they need on their own. But the basic approach of the outplacement services industry isn’t the only problem…the new economy is going to require much more.

This recession is the worst experienced since the Depression era, with unemployment continuing at record highs. A great many of the jobs that have been eliminated are never coming back, and currently there is just one job opening for every five officially unemployed Americans. This means two things. First, some workers are going to have to take the leap into entrepreneurship to regain control over their worklife and financial future. Second, the companies that survive and thrive through this economic disaster are going to need more from their employees, particularly once they are ready to start hiring again.

The new economy requires a solid basis of entrepreneurial skills from business owners and staff alike. The order of information on a candidate’s resume isn’t nearly as important as his or her ability to play an important role in the company. Employees at all levels of the organization will have to be collaborators, contributing innovative ideas to improve efficiency and provide better customer service. The days of wasting away in a cubicle are over for the most part, and those who want to remain employed for the long term will need the entrepreneurial skills to help their employer adapt and thrive in this constantly changing environment.

The outplacement services industry must respond to these changes by offering quality training that allows displaced workers the option of going out on their own or landing the right position with the right company. Competition in either option is fierce, and the classic skills and experience of the American worker just aren’t going to be sufficient in the new economy. Whatever a displaced worker’s past experience, he or she will need new skills to survive in this new economy, and the outplacement services industry needs to take the lead in getting folks on the right track.

Will Computers Ever Meet the Expectations Of Small Businesses?

Old School Vision of Computers

As a child of the 60’s, I grew up watching Hollywood’s vision
of the computer of the future. I use to watch in amazement as
TV character would feed a question into a computer and an
obscure answer would immediately be spit out. I remember
playing “computer” with my grade school friends in the
neighborhood. I put a cardboard box over me with a light bulb
jammed in the middle of it with a slot in the front. I would
have my friends write a question on a piece of paper and slip
it threw the slot, and as I made ‘bleeping’ and ‘zooping’
noises, I replied to their questions about the universe, the
best a grade school child could.

I eventually outgrew the Hollywood vision of computers, or at
the very least, Hollywood’s vision for the computers of the
future became a little more realistic. Although, the
reoccurring notion that computers will solve all our problems
won’t go away. As recently as five or six years ago, I
remember seeing a commercial promoting the Internet and how it
will magically solve all our woes, minus all the ‘bleeping’
and ‘zooping’ I remember from TV as a child.

Unfortunately, the promises of computers and the Internet have lagged behind our expectations of them, especially the expectations of small businesses. While large multinational corporations have been able to afford IT departments that could create specific applications to suite their needs, many small businesses were left out in the cold during the “computer revolution”. If a small business had a specific need or requirement with respects to automating their business process, their only choice was to hire a computer consultant, who could take weeks, and possible months, to write their program, and charge a cost prohibitive amount for the service.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most small businesses have been left with the same applications and programs they’ve been using for the last 10 years. Computers for the small business resemble a typewriter of the past more than Hollywood’s image of the computer of the future. At best, some small companies might have an individual on their staff that could create elaborate Spreadsheets, but more times than not, a computer was seen begrudgingly as items of unfulfilled promises.

The Second Coming of Computers

Over the last four or five years, there has been another “computer revolution”, and unlike the “computer revolution” of the mid to late 90’s, that mostly affected consumers and large businesses, this one is aimed at small businesses.

Threw the mid to late 90’s, innovators and visionary’s toted the Internet as the end-all-beat-all to everyone’s woes and problems with promises of a “new economy” and riches for all. Everyone was excited about the promise of computers, and everyone was eager to hop on the Internet dot com bandwagon. I’m sure most people know of someone that attempted to make money off the Internet, from that cousin that attempted to start a web site, to that neighbor that changed careers and went threw a technical training to learn programming or systems administration.

When the tech bust of 2000 happened, thousands of individuals that had hoped to reach their goals threw computers and the Internet, found themselves unemployed and ferociously competing for jobs. Within a matter of months, job postings that were only receiving two or three resumes were suddenly being flooded with resumes. Over the course of months it went from being an employee’s market to being an employers market.

The tragic events of 9/11 were what put the computer industry into a tailspin and ironically opened up the possibility of the second “computer revolution”. As corporations froze their budgets and killed projects, thousand more individuals found themselves unemployed. For roughly one and a half years, the computer industry seemed to die on the vine, and as individuals began to become despondent, they began to change careers again hoping to make an income that could support their families and life styles.

Fortunately, a certain percentage of individuals refused to give up on a career in the IT industry, and many programmers began to search for alternatives to being employed by large corporate IT departments. Some were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and began writing programs for industries they were familiar with from past careers. As new entrepreneurs began with limited budgets and resources, many of these programs were targeted towards smaller businesses.

Is There a Limit to the Industries Affected?

I myself use to consult with Fortune 500 companies, have moved my practice to small and mid-sized corporations. Since doing so I’ve become amazed at the evolution I’ve seen in some of the most surprising industries. The industry I’m most surprised with is the pest control industry. I have an acquaintance that has a pest control business. Basically he catches rats and mice for the food service industries.

We were talking one day about the subject of a second “computer revolution”, when he began to share his own experience with it. Apparently, he had purchased an application that utilizes a bar code reader that records the status of his mice and rat traps. As he goes from customer to customer, he scans the traps and records the status of the trap, if it was empty, had a catch or even if the trap was gone. After he is done with his route for the day, he goes back to his office and downloads the data into his application and is able to compile trends at his customer’s sites.

With the use of this database, he no longer has to rely on his memory, guessing, or digging threw paper work to figure out what is going on at his customer’s sites. He can simply use his application and have his database tell him if his customer’s site is clean, infested or if the infestation has moved. Based on these reports, he is able to sell his customers more accurate services and products based on their individual needs. He claims his business has grown approximately 12% over the last two years threw the use of this product.

After I moved my practice to small and mid-sized business, I stumbled across a small application that I have since recommended to many of my customers in the Service Industry. I had a customer that is in the Chimney Sweep industry, and for their industry, the business is considered quite large with 9 trucks and approximately 30 employees. They had been experiencing many problems with issues like inventory, dispatching/scheduling, and invoicing they wished to correct threw the use of a customized application.

In an attempt to make the business more productive and profitable, they had contacted me with the desire my company write a program that would fulfill all their needs. Upon assessing their requirements I quickly analyzed that that it would be a more cost effective solution to identify an existing product that could fulfill all their needs. After a few days of searching I discovered an Enterprise Resource Planner (ERP) for small Service-oriented industries.

The application was written by a group of three programmers who found their jobs outsourced to India in 2002. One of them had experience in the HVAC industry prior to changing his career in the mid 90’s, after discovering himself unemployed but still with hopes of staying in the IT industry, he wrote the application with two of his former co-workers.

After discovering the software vendor, I worked with them to identify their products full potential and eventually established it was flexible enough to be a good match for my customer’s requirements. With a good deal of hindsight, the programmers developed their product on Open Source technology, which allows parts of programs to be distributed for free, allowing it to be created for a fraction of the cost their counter parts of the 90’s.

My customer is now able to manage invoicing, purchase orders, inventory, scheduling/dispatch, and Marketing with two – three office employees verses the four – five they need a few years ago. The application, which the multi-user version costs approximately $2,500 and the single-user version costs approximately $650, is very cost effective.

For a smaller business to have an application of this versatility and functionality would have been unfathomable prior to 2001. I have since installed this application into several customers, all of which have become dependent upon it for the smooth operation of their companies.

The Promise has Finally Arrived

For smaller companies wishing to experience the promises of computers the time is finally here. More and more small computer vendors are springing up, producing complex and cost effective applications and products for most conceivable industries.

For small businesses to reap the benefits of present technology, they need to:

1. Know exactly what business process you wish to affect with the introduction of software.

2. Do your homework on the Internet, there are many small software vendors out there, if you do a through search, a vendor can be found with the solutions you need.

3. If you wish to use a consultant to identify a solution, don’t assume they are familiar with your industries needs and requirements. Ask what experience and solutions they’ve had with your specific industry.

4. Get references, an established firm should be able to produce previous customers that can vouch for their quality of work.

5. Get a break down of the costs involved with the installation of the product. Get it in writing if there is any training or tech support.

6. A consulting firm should be attentive to you and your needs. There are good consulting firms out there and there are bad consulting firms out there, the difference should be evident in the amount of effort and energy they spend to identify the correct solution for you and your company.

While we are definitely in the beginning of the second computer revolution, unfortunately, if you are expecting to magically obtain the benefits of it, chances are you’ll be let down. Expect to do some work when trying to find the right solution for you and your business. The more energy you spend in trying to find the right solution will directly equate out to the amount of increased productivity and profitability your company will experience after the solution is installed.

While computer solutions may never reach the point where an individual will simply input a question or problem and suddenly receive an answer, small businesses are much further ahead of where they were five years ago.

Careers in the Hospitality Industry

The hospitality industry employs a wide variety of people, all whom are essential to the productivity of any hospitality business. This service industry includes theme parks, cruise lines, event planning, lodging, and transportation, among other areas. Large organizations within these areas typically employ hundreds, and sometimes thousands of individuals to ensure the organization runs at optimal efficiency. These are some of the careers, both entry-level and those requiring higher education, that are usually found in the majority of these areas.

Hotel general manager
While this is specifically directed towards those in the hotel industry, general managers are one of the most important parts of any organization. In a hotel, this individual focuses on both the daily and special operational functions of the building, as well as monitoring financial aspects. General managers also deal with guest complaints and, overall, ensures the hotel has a good reputation. While these positions don’t usually require a four-year degree, the larger hotel chains told education in a higher regard. Full-service hotel chains may ask general manager applicants to have a degree in hospitality or hotel management.

Flight attendant, stewardess/steward, air hostess/host, cabin attendant
This position isn’t typically remembered as being in the hospitality business, but it encompasses one of the larger areas of the industry. Individuals who have flown in an airplane will be familiar with these professionals, and the services they provide to passengers, such as seat direction, customer service duties, and safety instruction. In fact, the sole responsibility of flight attendants is passenger safety. The educational requirements for this position do not require a degree, although it is looked upon as a favorable attribute. A training school, however, is required, and may take a few months to complete.

Travel agent
Typically, travel agents are employed within a travel agency. However, some choose to work on a self-employed basis. These individuals work to offer advice on traveling and destinations, as well as actually book flights, plan itineraries, and make other travel arrangements for their clients. Some also choose to specialize in certain destinations, while others offer their services to individuals traveling to a multitude of different countries. This job requires some additional training after earning at least a high school diploma. Also, travel agencies look favorably upon applicants who have taken classes related to the travel industry, such as marketing and international courses. These can be found at multiple community colleges, although some universities offer degrees in tourism and travel.

Clues To Quality Customer Service

Providing customer service seems very simple. I am here to tell you it can be but is not always that simple. In a service business you need to keep in mind that your employees are representatives for your company. It’s not always simple and stealing your values into your employees. Although you need employees if you expect to grow your business to the lengths that most entrepreneurs do. Here are a few tips on providing quality customer service and instilling these values into your employees so they can be great ambassadors for your service industry business.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your employees will treat your customers the way that you treat your employees. There is some debate on the whole trickle-down economic theory however in customer service there is little debate on this type of thinking. You should make it a daily task of yours to make your employees feel like they are part of the team and have a real impact on the growth and success for not only the business but for themselves. Once your employees realize they are a valued part of the team they will have no reason to want to fail you or the business they are a part of. Do you greet your employees with enthusiasm every day? Answer the same question for your employees. Do they treat your customers with enthusiasm? We all learn from example so provide the best example you can for your employees. After all for customer service is typically a reflection on management as opposed to the employees.

There is another aspect of the service industry business that is very important. Do your customers know exactly who you are as the owner? In most grocery stores a new area of photos has been created after several studies of consumerism have been completed. People relate to businesses run by other people. Including your image and the image of the employees who will be performing the work on business cards as well as other publications can go a long way. The simple images make your customers feel like you are easily accessible and have no reason to hide. After all, you are running a business what do you have the hide from? The only people that will typically make themselves unavailable are business owners or employees who are not proud of the work they offer. You do not want to be one of those businesses. If you are thinking that you don’t want your customers to know who you are you need to ask the tough question… why?

These are just a few examples of things you can do to improve your customer service in a service industry. There really is no limit to the length you can take your customer service. Come to think of it that might be a bit of an overstatement but you get the point. The combination of well prepared employees and presenting your self to your customers is a strong statement in heading the direction of success.