4 minute read

Six steps to preparing your workforce for the future of work

With many organisations facing worker shortages in key job roles, the threat of the post-COVID Great Resignation and changing skills needs as the speed of automation increases, workforce planning has never been more important if they are to succeed in building a sustainable future. David Burrows offers a six-step framework

Workforce planning

Ask yourself how often you read news stories about the future of work.

Conversations about the topic are all around us, so the chances are it’s regularly. Every week brings another headline about intelligent technology that’s projected to transform the skills we need at work.

The term ‘future of work’ itself is a misnomer, implying work will change at some ill-defined point in the future. That assumption is wrong. Automating technologies have been gradually integrated into everyday workflows for some time. As these technologies become more pervasive employees are facing more changes to their working lives than ever before, employers are struggling to find essential skills and particular demographics are being disproportionately affected.

Businesses must respond to the looming employment crisis now. Engaging in intelligent workforce planning is imperative and businesses must develop workforce planning strategies that align workforce skills to a world where technology is omnipresent in the work we do.

Setting the foundations for strategic workforce planning

Before getting started with strategic workforce planning (SWP) you must make sure your approach will deliver on its purpose – planning the transition of your current workforce to one that will deliver your future business strategy. That means challenging several misconceptions.

For example, employees mustn’t be viewed as a ‘cost centre’ to be minimised. HR’s role is to maintain, nurture and invest in employees as ‘assets’, so they’re effective and drive demonstrable return on investment. Skilling initiatives that prepare employees to work alongside technology are more time- and cost-effective than cycles of hiring in-demand skill sets while offloading others.

SWP is not solely an HR initiative. HR teams generally own the workforce planning programme, but will only be successful with strong collaboration from business leaders and key stakeholders from functions across the business.

It also mustn’t be seen as a one-time process or project. Maintaining an effective workforce that derives maximum business value from resources, including technology, requires you to run an evolving programme, one that requires constant validation that assumptions are relevant and monitoring of progress to the plan.

Try not to be overwhelmed. Workforce planning seems daunting at the outset but can be managed by breaking it down and prioritising through targeted pilots. This approach can also make your SWP process more easily measurable and help iron out glitches before you expand your programme.

A six-step framework for success

In addition to these considerations you need to ensure your senior leaders are clear on what this process is aiming to achieve, which is evidence-based plans for the workforce to achieve corporate goals using available resources to their fullest capacity and bolstered with key new recruits in specialist areas where those skill sets aren’t available from within.

Once you’ve got senior buy-in on the strategic importance of data-driven workforce planning, you should aim to follow this six-step framework to make it an enduring success:

  1. Mobilise your programme of work

To set yourself up for success you need the right skills and support for your SWP programme, ensuring you have access to specialist areas like talent acquisition, organisational design and learning. The programme lead will also need strong collaboration and communication skills to ensure the key stakeholders in the business are engaged and supportive.

Collating the data on your workforce is also a complex but crucial first step. It can be done directly by HR teams but it can be difficult and labour-intensive to get an accurate picture of the tasks employees fulfil, the technologies they use and their skills. It’s worth deploying analytics platforms that automatically associate skills and capabilities with tasks in your business and give you a current, detailed view of jobs.

  1. Assess your business strategy

Speak with senior leaders to identify what strategies are in place that will drive your business forward and how this could impact your workforce in future. From there you should work alongside business unit leaders to assess the strategic implications for the workforce in detail to identify which roles they will need to achieve those goals.

  1. Compare talent supply to demand

Assess how your internal talent might be affected over time by events such as attrition, retirement, planned redundancy and the introduction of new technologies. This should highlight which skills, knowledge and capabilities you can expect to have available to support your organisation’s business strategy. Once you understand your supply assess the demand for skills, knowledge and capabilities your business strategies indicate you will need in order to deliver on corporate goals. Analytics tools are invaluable in surfacing this insight and will help deliver a clear understanding of which roles your organisation will need more, or less of, to deliver your strategy.

  1. Identify skills gaps

You can now anticipate talent surpluses and shortages and when they will take effect. From here you should evaluate the risk to business efficacy if left unaddressed. Remember, external availability and competition for talent is a major factor – always look specifically at the gaps and consider the resources needed to resolve this internally, such as reskilling surplus employees from other roles.

  1. Develop a plan for transitioning your workforce

Instil these insights into a workforce plan which addresses capability gaps and mitigates risks on a role-by-role basis. Validate this plan with key business stakeholders, including the senior leadership team, and formulate effective measures and timelines for progress.

  1. Implement and review your plan

Implement the strategy you have devised but revisit and refresh it regularly, so you are prepared to adapt as business needs change and new tools are deployed.

Things to remember

Above all, it’s important to leave no-one behind. Employees who represent company values and strive for success on the business’s behalf shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s your responsibility as an employer to ensure everyone has their role reviewed and a plan developed so they maintain a serviceable skill set.

This approach helps you build career pathways for employees and retain talent, which is important for generating and retaining business-specific knowledge.

We know that two significant costs relating to workforce management are driven by recruitment and redundancy. Considering redeployment before other approaches provides the opportunity to not only reduce costs but also free up potential budget for improved learning and re-skilling programmes.

Ultimately, intelligent insights are the most critical ingredient to informing what your workforce strategy should look like. Take it from Elaine Vaile, group head of leadership and talent NatWest, who says: “Adding that data-driven element to workforce planning and decision-making has been invaluable for us. We can now future proof our workforce, so we’re equipped with the right talent to achieve our goals, and most importantly deliver for our customers, both today and tomorrow.”

Richard Branson’s often-quoted tweet from 2014 has never been more valid: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to." Where we value our employees enough to invest in their future and offer opportunities to develop and improve their potential we build a skilled and loyal group of invested stakeholders in our business.

Astute businesses are already taking steps to make sure they are prepared for the technology-driven requirements of work, now and in the future. Make sure you do the same.

David Burrows, pictured below, is director of workforce planning at Faethm AI

David Burrows Faethm


Published 22 September 2021

Engaging in intelligent workforce planning is imperative and businesses must develop workforce planning strategies that align workforce skills to a world where technology is omnipresent in the work we do

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