HR strategy forum

The
dilemma: I am the HR director of a large local authority
responsible for the full range of statutory local government services,
including education and social services. It employs more than 15,000 people.

The
authority is outside the Home Counties region, and generally doesn’t experience
recruitment difficulties. However, like all authorities, we are suffering from
the falling trend in young people seeking careers in social care. Indeed,
figures show there is a downturn of around 40 per cent in applications for
professional social work courses. We also know from our personnel data and
trends in local government, that the composition of the workforce is imbalanced
towards older age groups.  

The
HR function is structured so that each service area has a dedicated HR team
headed by an HR manager. I work closely with these HR managers as a team to set
the strategic direction for the council, and with individual managers to
develop strategic solutions to operational problems.

One
of my HR managers sits on the management board for a department responsible for
social care services to the local community. The management board is currently
seeking solutions to the pressures placed upon these services by demographic
trends. These will lead to rising demand for social care services and higher
expectations from both the community and the Government, despite the dearth of
money and the lack of appropriately qualified staff.

The
services under particular strain are those for the vulnerable young and for
older people, which are suffering from high workloads and difficulties in
recruiting qualified staff. The management team is hoping to devise a plan for
the next three years to address these problems, and is looking to its HR
specialist for a major contribution.

My
role is to support my colleague and take a strategic approach to these
problems. What would you advise me to focus on?

Solution
1
By Dilys Winn is HR director, Gloucestershire County Council

From
a strategic perspective, the trick here is not to fall into the trap of trying
to deal with the whole problem as a series of ‘quick fixes’. I suggest that
while you seek to solve immediate problems, your strategy must have a
longer-term focus.

Step
1
Work with the management team to address the immediate difficulties, and
consider better, more effective ways of working. Decide whether current
arrangements could be streamlined, if technology could help to reduce
administrative burdens, and whether managers are organising workloads in the most
sensible way.

Step
2

Consider your recruitment and retention strategies. In the competition for
scarce workers, does your organisation attract or repel good people? Look at
the recruitment arrangements: are they modern, quick and user-friendly? Do you
pay a market rate? Even in a relatively easy labour market, you need to keep
pace. Are staff properly supported when they work for you? Make sure people are
not leaving as fast as you are recruiting them, and look for people with
potential and then train them.

Step
3
Then address the medium-term. Consider options such as getting the
management team to consider partnership as a way to deliver services by sharing
scarce resources, growing your own people through the use of bursaries and
training schemes, and – most difficult of all – challenging them to think about
using staff who have not progressed through traditional training routes.

Step
4
Create a longer-term approach by developing a proper workforce plan. Take a
snapshot of your workforce at present, including skills, age and potential.
Develop a picture with the management team of the service in the future, and
then consider with them what the workforce profile must become to deliver it.

Step
5
Your role must then be to address the gaps and devise a plan to get your
workforce into a position where they have the capacity to meet the future needs
of the business. This is likely to include development programmes, addressing
traditional management hierarchies and breaking through professional
stereotypes.

Solution
2
By Jim Matthewman is a worldwide partner, Mercer HR Consulting

There
are three key issues to be addressed; the immediate shortfall in attracting
social care staff, the overload on existing workers (likely to affect
retention), and the far wider question of addressing the rebalance of the
workforce going forward.

Step
1
The immediate need in social care could be used as a pilot for the wider
issue, and in doing so would be likely to gain better buy-in from stakeholders
for a revised council-wide people strategy, rather than a knee-jerk demand to
raise pay levels.

Step
2
How well do you attract qualified talent? Could this be improved through
better implementation of flexible working arrangements and key worker housing
and career prospects, and by loosening up the succession process to provide
more opportunities for would-be candidates?

Step
3
Preview your partnership arrangements with third-party community agencies.
Together, you could deliver services differently, attract alternative funding
and provide a means to ‘piggyback’ existing employees and community staff into
the new Government professional social work qualifications.

Step
4
I would also recommend a business review of your social care requirements
for the next three to five years. This must include an analysis of your current
and required capabilities in employees and local management. You would need
Cabinet agreement for the department to specifically focus on high-risk groups,
such as older people and the vulnerable young (who are likely vote winners),
and in doing so, you would ensure that sufficient resource is re-allocated.

Step
5
The study should provide an opportunity to step back and review whether the
current organisation structure is effective, and how operational processes
(including better absence management and staff and caseload utilisation) could
be streamlined to lift some of the workload.

The
outcome should be a clear business case for ‘smarter working’, but one which provides
a sustainable model going forward.

All
of the above should form part of a new blueprint for a wider people strategy
which aims to re-position the council as an innovative, leading local
government employer of choice, focusing on outstanding community service and
understanding what really motivates the workforce.

Only
then will it start to attract the younger talent it yearns.

The
HR Strategy Forum, which is supported by some of the industry’s most
experienced people (see below), is Personnel Today’s major new initiative to
help readers become more strategic in their day-to-day operations.

Over
the coming months, Personnel Today will give a unique, developmental
opportunity to hone your strategic skills using a wide range of HR scenarios submitted
by senior HR professionals. Each week, our panel of experienced practitioners
and consultants will provide solutions to a typical strategic HR dilemma. You
can get involved by sending in your own problems, marked ‘strategic dilemmas’,
to martin.couzins@rbi.co.uk

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