The difference between outsourcing and outplacement. 

Often, when trying to explain “outplacement” to someone outside the human resources profession, the first question I am asked is, “Do you mean outsourcing?”

And while I don’t mean outsourcing (the practice of contracting work outside of the company), I understand why the confusion arises, beyond just the conflation of names: Outplacement, which is the process of accelerating career transition for laid-off employees through coaching, résumé writing and other services, actually serves as a nice complement to outsourcing and a nice complement to the staffing industry that often fills outsourced — and other — roles.

Whereas staffing helps find candidates who are prepared to interview for open jobs, outplacement helps candidates find and prepare to interview for open jobs. Staffing sources candidates at all stages in the job-seeker journey, and outplacement specifically helps employees who are job seeking due to a separation. In a way, one is yin to the other’s yang, but both are, ultimately, about job placement and providing solutions for unemployment.

The fact of the matter is that both unemployment and open job requisitions are still incredibly pressing issues for both talent and organizations. Even in this recovering economy, too many jobs go unfilled and too many people have joined or remain among the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Full-time job. Why the discrepancy? It is not that workers are unprepared for re-entering the workplace — many excel in their positions or have transferable or highly specialized skills; it is more likely that those workers are unprepared for the full-time job of being a job seeker. The skill set required for job seeking may not be one those workers have had to develop in recent years, and even the most in-demand workers may not know how to properly promote their accomplishments or elevate their online profiles.

That is where outplacement comes in: when carried out properly, it shortens the time to landing by removing the barrier of learning how to be a job seeker and helping affected employees quickly begin networking, applying and inter- viewing for relevant positions.

Both outplacement and staffing are boons to organizations that contract their work: just as skilled workers are not necessarily professional job seekers, successful companies may not be professional outplacement consultants or staffing firms. Outplacement, for example, takes the burden of helping laid off employees from the organization performing the layoff. Moreover, outplacement allows companies to preserve employee relations by not only helping employees get a new job, but also get a new job faster and with the support of professional job coaches, résumé writers and other support staff.

Beyond just the immediate and tangible return of faster job placement, outplacement also allows organizations the additional benefits of cost savings and limited legal liability: outplacement, because it is a service provided by organizations that want to continue taking care of their employees even after a separation, also helps mitigate the negative sentiment surrounding a layoff and may reduce the likelihood that employees seek legal retribution from the company.

And even more salient are the non- measurable benefits, such as the opportunity cost of talent acquisition and the impact on employer branding. When potential candidates see that an employer has a plan in place for supporting the employees through the entire life cycle — including as alumni — they come to the job application with a better understanding of and appreciation for the company’s culture. More- over, when current employees are laid off but feel supported throughout the transition process, they are more likely to speak well about the company, refer others for employment, and even be open to rehire opportunities in the future.

Organizations not already using outplacement have the opportunity to completely reimagine their talent acquisition and management ecosystem by working with a skilled outplacement firm — as they may already have done by partnering with a staffing company. Both staffing and outplacement, when carried out with experienced partners, ultimately produce similar outcomes for the organizations with whom they partner: creating greater opportunities for job seekers everywhere and taking care of both companies’ financial needs and their past, present and future talent.