An introduction to workforce planning
Aaron Wawman

5 minutes

An introduction to workforce planning

Planning talent needs in line with a business’s objectives makes strategic sense. By taking a holistic view of available skills - both within the organisation and beyond - talent management professionals can ensure their workforces operate at maximum efficiency.

However, according to research from Gartner, just 21% of HR leaders believe their organisations are effectively using talent data to shape talent acquisition and recruiting strategies, improve employee engagement, and inform other business decisions. So, what does an effective workforce planning strategy really look like? And how can your business benefit from taking this approach? Here's what you need to know about workforce planning.

What is workforce planning?

Workforce planning is the process of ensuring that the right people, with the right skills, are in the right place at the right time to deliver a business’s commercial strategy. Today, effective (and even advanced) workforce planning is a feasible talent management strategy for any size company, thanks to the widespread availability of advanced HR and talent analytics tools.

LinkedIn reports that at least 19% of companies have adopted HR analytics to plan workforces more effectively, and 12% have dedicated HR analytics roles. However, for many HR leaders, the concept of workforce planning still seems daunting.

The good news is that applying analytics to answer critical HR questions is a lot simpler than you may imagine. For example, by calculating the percentage of employees who are eligible to retire in the next five years, firms can ensure their talent pipeline is ready to fill these gaps accordingly. And that’s just one, basic example.

Why is workforce planning important?

Workforce planning is absolutely integral to wider organisational strategy and now every HR team, in theory, has access to huge volumes of valuable data. The benefits of harnessing this information to implement total workforce planning strategies, in order to aid organisational efficiency, should not be underestimated.By harnessing data to predict the behaviours of employees and market demand fluctuations, HR teams can plan to overcome forecasted skills gaps. This also allows them to bring in external expertise to bolster growth and push into new markets.

In its most sophisticated form, workforce planning can also show where a surplus of talent is available, helping businesses to make better informed decisions about where skills need to be redeployed, or which geographies to target or avoid.

Workforce planning can also be used to model various possible commercial scenarios, in effect helping to future proof an organisation - an invaluable asset in this increasingly unpredictable, fast-paced, globalised world.

By digitally tracking the availability of skills, both within the business and externally in the market, leaders can:

map where permanent workforces can be deployed most effectively
see where automation can pick up process-driven tasks that reduce productivity
identify the skills they are lacking, and
determine if skills gaps can or should be filled on a full-time or contingent basis.
The elements of workforce planning

By identifying short and long-term strategic priorities, businesses can build a robust workforce plan to enable HR leaders to target inefficiencies, see where people can and should be moved within the organisation, and identify relevant strategies for focussed people development.

The key is to keep business goals front and centre of every plan. Where are you now? And where is your target destination? Any business is only as good as its people, and by pinpointing the gap between present and future talent needs, firms can ensure they are equipped to meet their business objectives.

Of course, there is no exact science to predicting future workforce needs. Indeed, some of today’s most in-demand roles didn’t even exist a decade ago. However, we can assume that some skills, such as digital, will only continue to grow in prominence. Having a policy of assessing potential recruits for - and hiring based on - core competencies, rather than strictly on specific experience, can also be an effective strategy.

The role of learning and development in workforce planning

When it comes to closing workforce gaps, the argument for offering learning and development opportunities to existing teams, rather than automatically seeking external hires, is a convincing one. Redeploying staff where a business needs talent most is much more efficient than hiring and firing as markets ebb and flow, and staff retention should be a top priority for every company.

At a time when talent scarcity and skills shortages are impacting almost every sector, identifying overlaps in ability and mismatches in skills allows companies to close gaps in a sustainable way. Retraining, upskilling, and redeploying existing talent where possible - rather than continually buying in fresh skills - also has the distinct advantage of promoting a positive corporate culture.

Using technology to predict and meet workforce needs

Today’s talent technology can provide reliable data around which employees are suitable for re-skilling, which are likely to move on over time, and what talent is likely to be available in the external market. This helps with predicting gaps within the workforce that may open and close as market demand fluctuates.

This type of data can also be used to implement a policy of growing your own internal talent, which can subsequently help to close projected gaps in the future.

Workforce planning for fluctuations in demand and turnover

A great workforce plan allows a business to flex along with peaks and troughs as demand dictates, as well as undertake robust succession planning. One common misconception about a successful workforce plan is that it is rigid and set in stone. In fact, the opposite is true.

The best strategic workforce plans are dynamic, shifting and evolving in line with both changing organisational objectives and market conditions. An effective plan must be adaptable and almost constantly fine-tuned in order to stay in line with market demand. Covid-19, and associated restrictions on business activity, is a perfect example of why firms must always plan for the unexpected.

Workforce planning example: managing sudden changes in demand

With the outbreak of Covid-19, our customer, which specialises in the delivery of essential public services, saw an exponential increase in demand for healthcare services to support the health crisis.

Demand for workers almost tripled within two months. Elsewhere, the customer was awarded a contract to manage call handling for contact tracing, which also meant that huge volumes of staff had to be recruited, trained and deployed in a matter of days.

By drawing on our deep understanding of the recruitment industry, and working closely with our recruitment agency supply chains, we were able to on-board almost 2,000 workers in an incredibly tight window. This would not have been possible without our extensive experience of planning for similar seasonal fluctuations in demand, and implementing processes to allow the rapid ramping-up of hiring activity.

Find out more about this project and its outcomes in our Covid-19 customer case study.

The benefits of workforce planning

Mapping skills across the workforce, and using data to drive talent management decisions, can enable a business to accomplish its goals and strategic plan. Analytics tools can help talent managers understand why and when certain individuals, both inside and outside their business, are likely to make career moves. This leads to more effective recruitment strategies and an ability to pinpoint potential areas of concern.

There is no doubt that strategic workforce planning is key to enabling sustainable organisational performance. This perhaps explains why research from Deloitte has found that more than 70% of companies now say they consider people analytics to be a high priority.

Find out how Comensura can help with workforce planning

Ultimately, a workforce should be built to boost output, reduce costs, and increase productivity - while also being adaptable to the needs of the future. By balancing talent supply with skills demand, organisations can ensure their teams perform to maximum efficiency, without skills gaps (or surpluses) so that they are future-fit and firing on all cylinders.

Contact us today to find out how our specialists can help your organisation plan for future workforce needs, and meet them in the most efficient and sustainable way.

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