The Department of Defense Outplacement Task
The task now facing the Department of Defense, the "one-third to go," mentioned at the outset of these proceedings, will necessarily involve more involuntary terminations. It is an outplacement task of unprecedented scope and certainly a highly visible one. Of course the department has made plans and begun programs for outplacement. For example, the Departments of Defense and Labor have coordinated outplacement efforts by conducting joint, informational site visits to closing bases. These visits were designed to provide information and technical assistance to workers and community members relevant to the range of services and assistance available through federal and local Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) programs. The site visits have been instrumental in getting JTPA and related funds for many base communities. The workshop papers, panel remarks, and discussions have generated a wealth of information that can be used by the Office of Civilian Personnel Policy. Some of it offers reassurance that the office's current thinking and practices are on the right track; some of it offers new ideas for fine-tuning current practices or initiating new ones.
A clearer picture of the outplacement task still facing the Department of Defense provides a better context for understanding the workshop ideas most relevant for its outplacement efforts. What are the demographics for those 119,000 civilian employees yet to be downsized?
As of September 1995, the total civilian population of the Department of Defense numbered 850,000. Three-fourths of this workforce is in white-collar occupations (professional, administrative, technical, and clerical),
and the other fourth in blue-collar occupations. Nearly 40 percent of the workforce has between 11 and 20 years of service; another 22 percent has between 21 and 30 years of service. The majority of separations that have occurred to date have been among people with less than 10 years of service. Retirement and other separation incentives have had some impact on the number of retirements since downsizing began, but not enough to offset the bulge of people with more than 10 years of service who remain. Future outplacement efforts must target this high service group.
Current downsizing projections mean that at least 15 percent of this population of 850,000 will have to be outplaced. The civilian employment population at the 52 bases now designated for closure offers the clearest picture of the outplacement task over the next few years. There are approximately 85,000 civilian employees at these bases: 60 percent are in white-collar and 40 percent in blue-collar occupations. Only 20 percent are currently eligible for retirement. One-third of this workforce is female; 18 percent, black; 11 percent, Hispanic; and 7 percent, other (mostly Asian). The geographic distribution of the bases is heavily concentrated in just four states: California (26 percent of the workforce, 13 bases), Pennsylvania (12 percent of the workforce, 4 bases), Texas (10 percent of the workforce, 5 bases), and Tennessee (10 percent of the workforce, 1 base). The other 29 bases are scattered across 21 states.
Three bases account for nearly one-third of the civilian head count: the Defense Distribution Depot in Tennessee; Kelly Air Force Base in Texas; and McClelland Air Force Base in California. There is a high proportion of clerical and blue-collar workers and nearly 21 percent of all civilian black employees at the Defense Distribution Depot. Kelly Air Force Base has a high proportion of administrative workers and nearly 60 percent of the Hispanics found among all the dosing bases. McClelland has many technical workers and a high representation of Asians.
These base profiles suggest several issues that the Department of Defense must consider in its outplacement efforts. The first is how to successfully outplace employees who have high service tenure but are not yet eligible for retirement. Related but not identical to this concern are the potential pipeline problems that may occur for the department as a whole if the low service tenure categories continue to dwindle. The second is whether or not to customize programs for specific occupational groups at different bases (for example, technical employees at McClelland). A third is the probable volume of outplacements at specific bases or specific states. There is also the issue of outplacement in rural versus urban labor markets, not clearly evident from base demographics, but certainly suggested by the location of many of the 52 bases on the closing list. Finally, the timing of base closures is unclear, but it could
vary from a few months to five or more years. This is certainly not a comprehensive list of outplacement issues, but it shows the scope of the task facing the department: high-volume, multiple-site closings, over a 5-year period, across occupations, for employees with high service tenure, in rural and urban labor markets.
The workshop model of outplacement presented in Figure 1 at the beginning of this report serves as a guide for this discussion.
As an organization, the Department of Defense certainly wants results from its outplacement practices like those shown in the figure. Protecting the department's reputation as an employer who cares about its people, controlling the costs of downsizing, and maintaining a capable workforce are all concerns voiced at the workshop. The Department of Defense has under its control (at least partially) many of the outplacement practices recommended to achieve these results: planning, communicating, resources for the transition, customizing, and monitoring.
In his paper, Bush notes, ''the foremost downsizing lesson learned from outplacement experience is: downsizing should be planned, be executed, and be over with.'' This is the ideal, but the Department of Defense, like many organizations, is faced with downsizing that is incremental and drawn out over years. Nonetheless, the advice still applies. To the extent possible, careful planning will allow the department to plan, execute, and be done with it, in phases. Such phased planning must be based on strategic goals and the resulting labor demands. These strategic considerations and related organizational performance goals (cost reductions, increased productivity, technological upgrades, etc.) should be the overriding criteria for decisions about which employees will be outplaced and which will remain. Planners should use caution in using more subjective individual performance ratings in selection decisions. If the majority of employees view these ratings as heavily biased and unfair, they will view the outplacement decisions tied to them as unfair.
Planning will also allow the department to provide the employees who are to be outplaced with advance notice of 60 days or more. Advance notice increases the likelihood that employees will view the outplacement process as fair. However, it is also important that, once notice is given, the department begins encouraging outplacement orientation and encourages employees to enter job search training. According to Leigh, Vinokur, and other participants, early intervention of this sort has
been shown to increase the speed of reemployment and the quality of the jobs secured.
Employees who are to stay for the immediate future can be counseled as survivors. If the Department of Defense wants to experiment, one possibility is to implement some form of job search training coupled with workshops on the new employment contract with survivors. This type of outplacement intervention prior to actual downsizing has not been used often or evaluated, but the remarks made by several participants (especially Vinokur and Diamond) suggest its potential value. Moreover, it is consistent with the notion of helping all employees better understand the implications of the new employment contract.
A second aspect of planning discussed during the workshop involves planning buffers for employees who might otherwise be outplaced. The Department of Defense has already implemented some of these buffers (for example, hiring freezes, retirement and separation incentives), but several others could be considered. These include the special leave of absence programs and the idea of an internal, contract talent bank. Examples of both were described by Jackson at AT&T. The contract talent bank (called Resource Link) at AT&T is used to maintain a source of talented people in which the company has already invested. The Department of Defense might consider such programs as part of phased downsizing at closing bases. The contract talent bank concept might also be considered as a way to get new skills into the organizational pipeline despite freezes on permanent hiring.
All the workshop participants from industry deplored the media coverage of outplacement and downsizing. As Messenger remarked, the media can make the best, most carefully constructed outplacement effort look bad. However, everyone also acknowledged the inevitability of media coverage and suggested that the organization must do damage control via well-conceived press releases, conferences, and other public relations efforts. The visibility of the Department of Defense outplacements will certainly require a proactive approach to damage control. Perhaps the most effective means of damage control is communication of accurate information on job prospects and the successes of outplacement programs in helping employees to find good jobs and retrain for new careers. Although this information is important for public consumption, it is also important in helping departing employees maintain their energies for the job search.
Another aspect of outplacement communications emphasized at the workshop was the importance of repeated and multimedia communica
tions concerning termination. For example, the initial downsizing announcement might be followed by group meetings, and then one-on-one interviews with departing employees. The verbal information presented in these meetings needs to be supplemented by written notices in newsletters, e-mail communications, posters, video tapes, and so forth.
A third aspect of outplacement communications involves decisions on how to handle the time between the announcement of impending terminations and the actual date of termination. Several industry participants noted that their organizations encouraged people to think that their job is getting a job during this period. This means encouraging people to use career centers and begin the process of financial planning, emotional counseling, and career counseling and training. In some cases, for example at AT&T, people who qualified were invited to find temporary jobs within the organization. Diamond (Right Associates) emphasized that this period is part of the overall process of organizational change and downsizing. Managing downsizing must be part of a broader effort to communicate and educate about the changing employment contract; all individuals must think about their employability as well as their employment.
The most critical aspect of outplacement communications is the termination interview. All the speakers emphasized the importance of training the managers responsible for such interviews and providing trained counselors as backup in case an interview goes badly. Managers need to be given the tools and the coaching to conduct what, at its very best, is a difficult interview. Communicating with the survivors is also important, if only to let them know that counseling is available to them through an employee assistance program. The ways in which downsizing and outplacement are communicated to employees have a significant effect on employee perceptions about organizational fairness. These perceptions can influence the motivation and self-esteem of survivors and departing employees.
Resourcing the Transition Center
Although resources must obviously be allocated to all outplacement practices, the workshop discussions focused on the resources needed for transition centers. The basic idea of a transition center is that of a facility, preferably located outside the organization, which offers orientation, counseling, training, and other services that people need to pursue their next move—more training, another job in their field, a new career, self-employment, or retirement. The workshop participants discussed two types of transition centers. The first, described by Ryan, Diamond, Jackson, and Messenger, is a free-standing, off-site facility, rented or owned
by the organization. This facility was staffed by experts, either from the company or from a consulting firm, who managed traffic through the center, provided testing and assessment, ran workshops to develop job search skills, and conducted career counseling. These centers were physically well equipped with private workstations, long distance phone services, message services, access to job search databases, and a library of relevant newspapers and books.
The second model for a transition center was described by Papalia and Messenger. In this model, facilities either at local community colleges or somewhere within the organization were rented or allocated as a central location for people to find job leads or get other outplacement information. From this location, people can be directed to counseling, workshops, and testing and assessment sessions in the surrounding community. This model requires more hands-on involvement of the organization in coordinating services and monitoring use of the transition center.
Both types of centers can work. The first requires a higher dollar commitment and is probably more appropriate when there is a high volume of outplacement. The second requires more organizational time but may be more appropriate when outplacement volume is low or occurs in isolated areas in which access to expert consultants is either difficult or very expensive. The second model also features more direct involvement of community members in the outplacement process. This may work to the advantage of both the organization (enhancing its reputation) and the community (providing work for some of its members) in more geographically isolated areas. The Department of Defense must outplace people at bases in both rural and urban areas, with both high and low volume head counts. Thus both models as well as variations on each are appropriate for consideration.
Research and experience dictate that, whenever feasible, counseling, career guidance, training for job search skills, and pursuing networks and job leads should be customized to people's occupational skills and level. Several of the speakers from industry noted that their organizations set up separate transition or career centers for professionals and managers as well as for hourly workers. At a minimum, counseling and job search workshops were tailored to each of these groups. Such customization reflects the differences in occupational skills and associated labor markets, of course, but also differences in financial resources and personal networks and job search skills.
The issue of special outplacement services for those over age 40 or for
those with long service was discussed, and reactions to customization for this group were mixed. All the research for this demographic group shows that reemployment is slower and earnings in new jobs do drop from their previous levels. However, Vinokur noted that, in the JOBS workshops, there is some evidence that a mix of younger and older workers tends to keep older workers energized and motivated to continue searching. The Department of Defense will need to pay attention to motivating longer service and older employees to actively engage in outplacement activities and in job search and should expect that this group may require more time than younger, low-service groups to find work alternatives.
The transferability of skills from government service to private industry is another area in which customizing of outplacement efforts will be needed. The combined expertise of the workshop participants emphasized that it is quite feasible; however, they suggested that up-front preparation of trainers and training materials would pay off. Such preparation would focus on translating government descriptions for jobs and skills into the language used by private-sector employers. This language may vary somewhat by location or occupation, and these variations also need to be considered.
Finally, it is important to note that departing employees will differ in the paths they want to pursue. Some may want to retire, some may want to just stop working, some may want to relocate, others to find new careers, and still others to pursue special training or self-employment opportunities. This is true for even a relatively narrow portion of the workforce such as the older, long-service employees. The organization must keep this broader picture in mind and provide some avenues for employees to consider all these options in its outplacement orientations, workshops, and counseling. Ideally, outplacement services should support individuals in finding the right career for themselves for the long term, not just a quick fix job.
How effective are outplacement practices in achieving the results the organizations want? The evidence reported by Leigh from policy evaluation studies of publicly funded reemployment programs suggests that job search assistance is a very effective way to help employees get jobs, but the research results on many other types of programs are mixed. The consensus at the workshop was that most organizations do not do a good job of monitoring outplacement activities, making it difficult to assess the effectiveness of outplacement practices. Ryan noted that, in hindsight, GE Aircraft believes more planning about how to measure outplacement
would have improved the company's ability to decide what was working and what wasn't. GE Aircraft has started to monitor activities at its transition center to determine the level of use, which approaches are best in securing jobs, and so forth. Diamond reported that some consultants do develop baseline measures of outplacement activities, but, in general, industry benchmarks and other surveys on outplacement activities are scarce. Given their breadth and scope, the Department of Defense outplacement efforts look like a natural laboratory for monitoring and evaluation research.
COMMUNITY AND INDIVIDUAL OUTPLACEMENT
The workshop outplacement model suggests that organizations must keep in mind the results that communities and individuals seek from outplacement and the pressures they face during downsizing. Communities want to maintain area economic vitality, and job development is one way to achieve this. There was a clear consensus in workshop discussions that the organization must work aggressively with the community on job development. For example, Papalia remarked that Smith Corona worked hand-in-hand with the state unemployment services and with a community task force to identify area jobs and help match these with the skills of departing employees. Ryan noted that job development was crucial in getting jobs for GE Aircraft's salaried employees. GE Aircraft hired professional recruiters to do job development. These experts targeted the top 10 hiring companies in the region and aggressively marketed outplaced workers to them. The Department of Defense could pursue similar tactics, including asking high-level department officials to talk to the top executives of the companies surrounding closing bases.
Diamond described the proprietary Right Associates Job Bank, an electronic database incorporating employment opportunities by specific geographic regions, skills, and experiences against which job seekers can match their own skills and geographic preferences. Other outplacement consultants and recruiters often have access to proprietary electronic databases or can teach individuals to use Web site networks for effective job searches. Employer databases and matching programs have been developed by consortia of public sector agencies, universities, and governments. For example, in conjunction with the Department of Labor and the Department of Defense, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a database that brings together information concerning individual worker histories with information on job openings and their requirements. (This database was designed for use at the closing of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and Base; its development and usefulness are described in Vance and Day, 1995.) The Department of Defense could
pursue any of these job development tactics, including asking high level Department officials to talk to CEOs of the companies surrounding closing bases.
Communities are also interested in maintaining effective social services for everyone in the area. Downsizing, particularly high-volume downsizing, places heavy demands on already strained social services. Organizations need to coordinate with social service agencies to ease this burden and to ensure that outplaced employees have access. For example, Papalia reported that Smith Corona put together a company-community steering committee to prepare for increased demand. Several participants talked about one-stop shopping at their companies' transition centers. In order to accomplish this, companies have to coordinate with community service representatives, making arrangements (possibly including funding) for them to keep regular hours at the transition centers. Efforts to ease the burdens of outplacement can work both ways. For example, Ryan remarked that GE Aircraft worked with the local unemployment service to make sure that its outplaced workers were either going through the GE job search workshops or the employment service workshops, if they wanted to collect unemployment benefits.
Although not discussed in detail at the workshop, there are a number of examples of coordination among community service providers in order to create jobs and leverage funding and services, many of which have been partially funded by the federal government, especially the Department of Labor. One example is the Center for Commercial Competitiveness in southern New York (now called Workers Enterprise Development). This center was established by the state and the federal Department of Labor in 1992 to create jobs and promote entrepreneurship in areas hard hit by defense cutbacks, corporate downsizing, and economic shifts away from traditional manufacturing. Center programs offer selected unemployed workers training in team building, business development, new manufacturing systems, and product marketing to prepare them for new manufacturing environments. In conjunction with this training, program officials recruited area employers to support internships, specific projects, and entrepreneurial joint ventures offering workers-in-training opportunities for paid learning experiences. The program encountered many of the barriers to reemployment and job creation documented in the paper by Leigh but may provide some insights to the Department of Defense in coordinating community action in areas such as New York's southern tier. (This program is described in Last et al., 1995.) One common finding in all case studies and descriptions of coordinated community efforts to develop jobs and speed up reemployment is the need to coordinate the rules about eligibility and dispersals made by agencies funding training, unemployment assistance, and other forms of
social support in order to provide meaningful (and more dignified) assistance to displaced workers.
Most outplaced individuals want to find new jobs or at least get some guidance about where to go next. They also want to minimize the stress and disruption that accompanies job loss. As Bush and Wanberg and Hough report, there is considerable evidence that job loss can exacerbate existing physical ailments or increase the incidence of others. There is also evidence that violent behaviors such as suicide, spousal and child abuse, and workplace violence can increase. Papalia and Messenger emphasize the need to be prepared for illness or violence by having ongoing hospital, mental health, and security support available to the workplace and to career centers during downsizing.
In addition, Messenger notes how important it is that outplacement centers be places where people can go to get on with the job of finding a job. That is, these centers must provide a sense of safety, of structure, of humor and positive social interaction. At the same time, the center staff must insist that people actively search for jobs, emphasizing that everyone can do it and that rejections are part of the process. In addition, center staff need to promote a sense of balance—people have other things going on in their lives and this whole fabric cannot be completely torn apart during a job search. Losing a job is difficult, but it is not fatal. If, to some degree, these messages can be conveyed in all of an organization's outplacement practices, everyone will be, at minimum, a survivor.
Vance, R., and D. Day 1995 Developing computerized outplacement and counseling programs. In M. London, ed., Employees, Careers, and Job Creation. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Last, L.R., R.W.E Peterson, J. Rappaport, and C.A. Webb 1995 Creating job opportunities for displaced workers. In M. London, ed., Employees, Careers, and Job Creation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.