Workforce Planning - the lost (but critical) HR capability?

Blog posts

26 Jul 2019

Ed Griffin

Ed Griffin, Director of HR Consultancy and Research

I was pleased to read the announcement this morning that in a matter of weeks police forces in England and Wales would start recruiting 20,000 new police officers. This had been part of Johnson's leadership campaign and now active policy. That’s a reversal of the reduction in police numbers that took place up to 2017.

I had a number of reactions when I read this. First I saw this as a massive and exciting challenge for any HR team. Second, if it was my HR team that needed to deliver on this I’d be thinking who am I bringing together today to work on planning this.  I also noticed that as I read the announcement my inner HR nerd kicked in. This inner nerd of mine feeds on data and workforce planning! I’ve seen workforce planning as one of the most important ways that HR can practically help an organisation in both the short and longer term.

Workforce planning is one of the best ways of linking strategy and operational working, and yet it seems to be an HR discipline that too many HR teams have given up. I was fortunate in the NHS to have some brilliant people working on this and great colleagues in Operations who created a clear organisational demand. The agenda for HR becomes so much clearer when this happens. It also helps to make HR more obviously accountable and the value that we can deliver is more apparent. I think that has to be a good thing.

There’s already been a lot of comment about the scale of training that’s going to be required and whether it will be practically possible to achieve the government’s new target. This will also be the first real test of the degree requirement introduced for new police officers in 2016 (but also a great opportunity for a large public sector employer to support the government’s apprenticeships agenda – with scope for thousands of high quality, police constable degree apprenticeships).

If you break down the challenge to recruit 20,000 new officers, you quickly get a sense of the scale and complexity of what’s involved and how it reaches across almost every aspect of what an organisation and its HR function does. From an attraction perspective you need to think about who you want applying and how do you persuade them to apply. Right now becoming a police officer doesn’t look the most appealing thing to do. There’s a critical question in there too, of how do you attract candidates that reflect the diversity of the public they will serve? If you need to appoint 20,000 people then how many candidates will you need given the drop-out rate at each stage of your process? I’m noticing my HR nerd now thinking about data and ratios for a recruitment pipeline – candidates-invites-selection places-offers-acceptances and so on.  

Then of course next on your list are selection, pre-appointment screening, induction, training & education, evaluation, uniforms, physical space to train and where to work, supervision and mentoring for new staff, and support and training for existing staff. The impact doesn’t stop there as you need to consider the impact on culture, cost, etc etc.

For the police there’s a potential hidden benefit in having an ageing workforce. With planned growth like this there is significant need and opportunity for experienced longer-serving officers. The need for supervision and mentoring will be significant for the years ahead. It is also important to have those experienced staff who keep things running whilst major change is occurring – often a need that is missed. This may prompt some challenging conversations around retirement age.

At IES we’ve been researching and helping employers for years with these sorts of challenges as well as working to improve employer practice more widely. A good example of this is our joint work last year with CIPD on workforce planning.

As a practitioner, when you’re faced with a challenge this big, the risk is not knowing where or how to start. Three questions that could get you started are:

  • How different does your workforce need to be in five years’ time?
  • What data do you need to manage that transition in the workforce?
  • Who do you need to be working with now - to start planning this transition?

And a final thought - don’t be shy, unleash your HR nerd. It may come in handy!


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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.