How to draw up a blueprint for workforce planning

Workforce planning in today’s chaotic labour market may feel like an uphill struggle, but a methodological approach to sourcing talent can pay off. Simon Blockley explains.

It is well known by leaders that a powerful workforce strategy can help a company resolve many of its current and future talent sourcing problems.

But while workforce planning has become almost universally accepted in business circles, there are still issues when it comes to implementing it – at least this is the finding of research by Guidant Global.

We found that 80% of hiring managers still struggle to source the talent their business needs to thrive. So what can be done to improve this situation?

What is workforce planning?

To put it simply, workforce planning is understanding how your employees will be used to meet your business goals. Unlike operational workforce planning, which tends to look at shorter hiring timeframes of one to 12 months, strategic workforce planning has a typical forecast of up to five years.

Bridging this connection is achieved by predicting both the behaviours of internal employees and market demand fluctuations. This allows for a unique plan to be created that will map forecasted skills gaps and workforce needs.

Identifying key issues early on will enable a company to find strategic solutions that will help bolster its people strategy and support it in achieving its mission and goals.

Why is it important?

It may be a cliché, but a company’s most important asset is its people, and without sufficient management, businesses risk something far too valuable to simply replace.

Finding the right people to fill new positions is likely to be difficult, however. According to a PwC survey, skills shortages represent the greatest challenge to 41% of businesses across Europe and US, the top HR concern.

However, successfully utilising a workforce plan can go a long way to eliminate such worries and help overcome talent gaps strategically.

As well as alleviating skills shortages pressure, a robust workforce can enable firms to boost productivity by ensuring that the right people are in the right place at the right time – while simultaneously highlighting areas for training and development. Overall, this increases talent attraction, retention and engagement.

What about skills shortages?

Our recent survey into UK hiring trends showed that four in five hiring managers are struggling to source the talent their business requires to thrive.

This is a similar trend across almost every other advanced economy, showing that this is in fact a shared problem for many business managers. The state of the current market means that talent is in high demand, but is also in critically short supply. Unfortunately, this trend looks set to remain going forward, especially when we consider the accelerating STEM skills gap.

However, it does not have to be all doom and gloom for every company, and many businesses realise that they can attract talent and ensure that their team is agile and performing at their optimal level with a strategic workforce plan in place.

Here are some practical steps to help you break things down in a systematic way, which will hopefully bring you the results you wish to see.

Identify high-level talent priorities: By assessing historic attrition levels, you will be able to gain a rudimentary understanding of how many people your organisation will need to hire to balance those leaving in the next 12 months.

Analysing data even further will reveal more information about the seniority of hires needed and the contract types required.This is the right time to consider the volume of employees that need to be employed in order to achieve key business objectives and growth targets.

Focus on predicting which roles will be the hardest to fill and which are most critical for the success of your organisation.

Other standard resourcing metrics such as average time to hire and average cost per hire are beneficial but if you don’t have accurate historic data, endeavour to build more effective tracking into your processes to support future workforce planning.

Break down your business goals by timeframe: Breaking down goals into immediate, annual and long-term can make the process more manageable. Invite senior business leaders to help fill in the gaps and explain that by understanding how business and talent goals align, together you can make better businesses decisions.

Translate business goals into talent needs:  In order to build a more strategic workforce hiring plan, you need to understand how your organisation’s business objectives translate into talent needs.

This is an important step in ensuring that your hiring strategy aligns with your company’s strategic goals, and this will also help you understand what your workforce needs to look like to perform at the highest level. For example, if your company wants to expand its digital capabilities, it should be a priority to onboard IT engineers or identify if there is anyone in your team that can be cross trained.
Closing the gaps

Once you have identified your critical talent categories based on your business objectives, you can begin to close the gaps proactively. Doing this doesn’t need to involve new hires. Instead, it could focus on driving internal mobility, developing talent from within the organisation, or outsourcing key projects.

Proactive but flexible

Completing these exercises will help you determine the level of investment required in resourcing – including your employer branding and recruitment marketing efforts – and will identify the target groups your organisation needs to appeal to.

Through a thorough audit of your current structure and an analysis of past patterns and future expectations, it will be clear how to devise a strategic workforce plan that will enable you to tackle talent issues. It is important to remain proactive but flexible, and be aware that your plan will need to be updated as company goals adapt and as talent supply both internally and within the wider workforce changes.

To be successful, workforces need to be agile and performing at the optimum level, especially with an ever-changing global outlook. However, it is only through understanding the current talent landscape that HR teams can be empowered to plan for future demand in a better way.

Simon Blockley

About Simon Blockley

Simon Blockley is CEO of Guidant Global
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