Strategic HR

Workforce planning is one of the 10 biggest HR issues in 2021

Workforce Management Top 10 HR Issue

Workforce planning is tough at the best of times. Getting the right people with the right skills, in the right jobs, to help your company accomplish its goals is a persistent challenge for many organisations. But throw a pandemic into the mix? Well, things get even more complex.


2020 brought to light several trends that have impacted the workforce, including digitisation and automation, increase in remote work, and the rise of the gig economy. These are forcing many organisations to step back and re-examine their workforce planning processes.


A 2020 McKinsey survey found that 33% of leaders planned to spend more on workforce planning over the next year, ranking it a higher priority than recruiting, learning and development, and engagement.


There are many reasons why this is such a tricky issue, and there are a lot of moving parts to consider. Let’s look at what workforce planning is, why it is such a challenge, and some important aspects you need to consider when planning your future workforce.



What is workforce planning?


Workforce planning is an important part of strategic HR. It is a very broad term, which describes the way you align your business needs with the needs of your workforce. And there are many moving parts.


A good workforce planning strategy will consider the following:

     -  What the business needs

     -  Which skills are required to meet these needs

     -  How to attract people with these skills

     -  How to retain these employees

     -  What to do when they leave (succession planning)


Of course, the reality of workforce planning is far more complex than this. And that’s probably why it came up as one of the top 10 HR challenges of 2021.



Why workforce planning is such an obstacle for HR


In late 2020, XpertHR surveyed over 500 HR professionals. And in doing so, they ranked the top 10 HR challenges for 2021. Naturally, workforce planning came up as a very strong contender.


Here are the challenges that many respondents felt are were very or extremely challenging:

     -  Finding high-quality applicants

     -  Ensuring the right skillsets for now and the future

     -  Creating a succession plan

     -  Managing layoffs, resignations or downsizing

     -  Increasing engagement, morale and satisfaction

     -  Retaining employees

     -  Managing a remote workforce

     -  Improving diversity and inclusion efforts

     -  Complying with state and local laws

     -  Managing data privacy



Factors that will impact the way you plan


When you undertake workforce planning, there are many things to take into consideration. Each of these elements will influence your plan, so make sure you don’t leave a single stone unturned.


Here are some good areas to consider as part of your plan:


Technology - 2020 has proven that having robust technology is essential for maintaining an engaged and productive workforce. 


Flexible working - Remote working was the norm for many in 2020, and many organisations are now figuring out how to integrate more flexibility into the post-pandemic workforce. Will you embrace the “remote-first” model, opt for a remote-friendly workplace, or adopt a hybrid model?


Outsourcing - Many companies were forced to make redundancies during 2020 and looked to freelancers and contractors to temporarily fill skills gaps. Will you re-hire permanent staff or look at alternative staffing solutions?


Science - Think about how advances in machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence may reduce your need for human capital.


Globalisation - Will your plan be influenced by the movement towards a global marketplace?


Legislation - As laws and regulations change, so might your hiring, training, compensation or disciplinary practices.


Demographics - With our increasingly ageing workforce, succession planning is becoming more important than ever. Will you have a large group of people retiring soon and how will you plan to fill these gaps?


There’s a lot to take into account beyond headcount. And especially within bigger organisations, workforce planning is not a one-person job.



Three hot tips from a workforce planning expert


Tammy Perkins is Chief People Officer of Pacific Market International and an expert on workforce planning. She shared with us her top tips for HR professionals who are struggling with workforce planning.


1.  Understand each position - Tammy says that you should understand each position before you recruit for it. If you don’t know what their overall responsibilities are going to be, then you might want to find out – or even hand the recruitment over to somebody who does.


2.  Identify future skills - You probably understand your business goals. So it pays to imagine which skills you will need once you achieve these goals. Tammy advises organisations to clearly assess the positions you will need long-term to achieve future growth.


3.  Identify critical roles - When it comes to succession planning, you should already have a successor in mind for each critical role within your business. Tammy says that your successor list for critical positions could include both internal and external candidates. But the important part is the advance planning.


Tammy believes that good workforce planning comes down to these four things: having a strong strategy for hiring the right talent, keeping retention levels high, upskilling your workforce and reliable succession planning.



This post was written for The Access Group, a leading provider of HR, digital learning, payroll and financial management software to small to mid-sized organisations. It helps more than 47,000 customers globally across commercial and not-for-profit sectors become more productive and efficient.