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What is Strategic Workforce Planning and How to Use it in the Public Sector

In today's ever-changing workplace environment, it is increasingly important that organisations use strategic workforce planning to ensure that their workforce aligns with their overall goals as an organisation.

Strategic workforce planning is essential for organisations to assess talent and skills gaps, predict workforce supply and demand, and ensure they have the right people in place to achieve their long-term objectives.

In this blog, we will discuss everything you need to know about Strategic Workforce Planning, its benefits, challenges and how it can be used in the public sector effectively.



What is Strategic Workforce Planning?

Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) is the continual process of identifying gaps in an organisation's workforce and creating long-term solutions to fix them.

To be operate the most effectively, an organisation’s workforce needs to be adequately equipped. This requires having the right talent, within the right roles and at the right time, resulting in reduced costs.

The 7 Rs of Strategic Workforce Planning

During Strategic Workforce Planning, an organisation must evaluate where it stands today by understanding its current workforce and the impact it has on organisational performance and growth.

Having this knowledge will help organisation's create long-term strategies. 

The ultimate goal of a workforce planning strategy is to have a workforce with the right people, skills, shape, size, time, place, and cost:

1. Right People

Ensuring that all employees work well towards the organisation's culture, values and needs.

2. Right Skills

Employees have the right skillset to do their job correctly.

3. Right Shape

Employees make up the right workforce structure and competencies needed within the company in the short and long term. 

4. Right Size

Employees fit the correct number of people and job roles so that a company’s workforce is not too small, unproductive, overstaffed, or inefficient. 

5. Right Time

Employees can immediately produce work that furthers the company.

6. Right Place

New hires and employees live and work in strategic locations to fulfill current and future operational needs and growth.

7. Right Cost

 Employees are fairly and competitively paid for their work and within budget.

7 Rs of Strategic Workforce Planning

What are the Benefits of Strategic Workforce Planning?

Implementing a strategic workforce plan to your organisation has numerous benefits. Here are some of the key advantages:

It Fills Skill Gaps

Skill gaps form within the workplace for numerous reasons. One of which is the fast-paced nature in which the workplace changes. Therefore it is essential that adequate training in technology and soft-skills are prioritised.

An aging workforce also poses several challenges and limitations within the workplace, such as lack of in-demand skills, upskilling and mass retirement.

Strategic workforce planning can help organisations adequately prepare to avoid these skills gaps.

See our blog on why bridging skills gaps will help your organisation thrive.

It Reduces Costs

Strategic workforce planning will help you hire the correct number of employees with the right skills. This will in turn prevent overstaffing and reduce costs in the long run.

Aligns with Workplace Goals

When you understand your organisation's needs and objectives, you can create an effective workforce plan to achieve these goals.

Strategic Workforce Planning ensures that your workforce planning decisions align with your long-term goals.

Diversity and Inclusion 

You can use workforce planning to meet your diversity initiatives and create a more inclusive work culture.

Strategic workforce planning enables you to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace by identifying opportunities to expand the workforce with unique perspectives, backgrounds, and skills.

Helps Prepare for the Future

Workforce planning ultimately helps you to create a long-term strategy, taking into account future changes such as technological advancements and market changes. 

Being well-prepared won't prevent adversities but it will equip you to respond to them effectively.

The Challenges of Strategic Workforce Planning in the Public Sector

1. Budget Cuts

The public sector has long been operating within increasingly tight budgets and faces a constant pressure of being able to balance limited resources while the demand for services increase.

Managing a small budget means optimising the resources already available. E.g. organisations may re-align resources by expanding staff’s responsibilities and utilising resources in different areas.

2. Changing Legislation

Changes to existing legislation or the introduction of new legislation may drive the need for more staff in certain affected areas.

For example, The Care Act 2014 has increased the demand for social workers, and the Homeless Reduction Act 2017 has a need for professionals within housing solutions.

Setting up a strategic workforce plan allows public sector organisations to adapt to these regular changes in legislation.

3. Aging Workforce and Skills Shortages

The ONS reports that by 2046, 24.7% of the working population will be made up of individuals aged over 65, and Aviva predicts that as early as 2025, 1 in 3 of the working population will be aged 50 and over.

Some common strategies for managing an aging workforce include:

  • Recruiting more diverse talent
  • Retaining and engaging older workers with flexible work arrangements
  • Developing and training current workforce
  • Transferring knowledge through mentoring or training
  • Redesigning work processes to accommodate a multigenerational workforce

See our blog on Managing a Generational Diverse Workforce Here.

4. Digital Transformation

Public sector organisations face the challenge of an increasing demand for the digitalisation of their services to provide a quicker and more efficient user experience.

However, limited budgets, legacy systems, bureaucratic procedures and resistance to change, currently stand in the way of achieving this future.

How to Build a Strategic Workforce Planning Framework

1. Identify your Long-Term Organisational Goals

Establishing clear and measurable objectives can guide you in deciding on the appropriate hiring strategies. These goals should centre around your organisation's key priorities and contribute to mapping out a path for its growth.

Most organisations follow a S.M.A.R.T. framework for goal-setting. That means the goals will be:

  • Specific: Each goal should be specific, detailed and direct.
  • Measurable: Your goals should have a clear way of measuring them. Whether that’s a deadline, a number, a percent change, or some other measurable element.
  • Attainable: Aim for attainable goals rather than reaching for the stars - ensure that your objectives are realistic and achievable within your organisation's scope and timeframe.
  • Relevant: Goals should be in line with your organisation's business model, requirements, and goals to keep you on the right path.
  • Time-sensitive: Establish timelines for your goals to maintain momentum and establish fresh targets as you progress.

2. Evaluate Your Existing Workforce

In the initial stages of strategic workforce planning, it is crucial to conduct a thorough assessment of your existing workforce. Take a closer look at your current team, pinpointing their strengths and weaknesses. Identify areas of success within your organisation and how you can improve those areas further.

Three essential areas of focus:

  • Strategic plan. Determine how well your workforce aligns with your current objectives and identify the necessary actions to reach a point of fulfillment.
  • Outside factors. Identify external influences such as emerging competitors, diversity initiatives, the adoption of remote work, or other variables that may impact your workplace.
  • Workforce maintenance. Determine ways to enhance your workforce better training, an emphasis on employee well-being, or initiatives that boost employee engagement before expanding further.

3. Anticipate Challenges

A crucial element of a successful workforce plan is anticipating future needs and potential challenges.

By strategically preparing for these factors in advance, you can effectively navigate and address them head-on when they arise.

Reflect on your current workforce compared to where you want to be. Determine how many employees are required to successfully complete a project or meet a deadline. If your organisation experiences growth as anticipated, how many additional staff members will be needed in six months? Ensuring you have the right team size is essential to meeting project deadlines effectively.

4. Identify the Gaps

After evaluating your current position, goals, and potential challenges, you can address any gaps and complete your strategic workforce plan.

Identifying these gaps is essential for ensuring that you have the right employees to drive your organisation's growth. By actively seeking out talented candidates and establishing a talent pipeline of qualified individuals, you can seamlessly fill future open roles when the need arises.

5. Implement and Adapt

As crucial as having an adaptable workforce is, so too is having a flexible workforce plan. While your plan may set a solid foundation for your growth, it's important to be prepared to make adjustments.

Unexpected situations and needs may arise that weren't foreseen in the initial plan. While your plan will address many of these needs, there may be unforeseen challenges that require you to revisit and restructure your hiring strategy.

Stay agile and adaptable to ensure your workforce plan remains effective in any scenario.

Strategic Workforce Planning Framework

Examples of Strategic Workforce Planning within the Public Sector

Many public sector organisations are currently using strategic workforce planning to optimise their workforce in order to achieve future goals.

Some examples of public sector organisations who are already using this include:

1. West Suffolk Council's strategy 2022-2028 underpins their ambition of becoming an agile employer.

"This strategy captures the learning from our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recognises the opportunities that 2020 has provided to move towards an agile organisation, valuing new ways of working and enabling our staff to deliver their best work in different ways, with a strong focus on
supporting health and wellbeing."

2. NHS England's three key priority areas are to train, retain and reform.

Train – Grow the workforce

"By significantly expanding domestic education, training and recruitment, we will have more healthcare professionals working in the NHS. This will include more doctors and nurses alongside an expansion in a range of other professions, including more staff working in new roles."

Retain – Embedding the right culture and improving retention

"The collective impact of the Plan’s proposals, aligned to increases in capacity, would help
 reduce the overall leaver rate for NHS employed staff from 9.1% in 2022 to between 7.4% and 8.2% over the course of the modelling period. This is equivalent to retaining 55,000–128,000 FTEs."

Reform - Working and training differently

"Growing the NHS workforce, on its own, is not enough to ensure the NHS can meet the changing needs of patients."

3. Civil Service Workforce Plan

In 2016, the Civil Service Workforce Plan outlined five key areas which supported the CSBs aims:

  1. Attracting and retaining people of talent and experience
  2. Building career paths
  3. Developing world-class leaders
  4. Being the most inclusive employer
  5. Developing cost effective and flexible reward structures

Looking to Improve or Implement a Strategic Workforce Plan at Your Organisation?

If you are interested in receiving expert advice tailored to your organisations' needs before changing or implementing your strategic workforce plan, our training team will be able to help you.

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