Workforce planning in the public sector: dealing with today, planning for tomorrow
Joel Forrester

4 minutes

Workforce planning in the public sector: dealing with today, planning for tomorrow

To successfully build a workforce for the post-COVID-19 future, public sector organisations’ talent requirements need to be aligned with their strategic goals in order to identify the skills needed to drive growth.

Addressing public sector challenges with workforce planning

Workforce planning plays a pivotal role in delivering improved services. In addition, it facilitates a better response to some of the biggest challenges facing public sector organisations — budget cuts, legislation change and an ageing, skills-short workforce.

So how, exactly, does workforce planning address these challenges? Let’s find out.

Budget cuts

In today’s challenging environment, councils often need to re-align resources and in some circumstances, centralise, by expanding staff remits and utilising resources in different areas. Restricted budgets also mean councils need to procure workers that generate cost savings.

A successful MSP partnership where workforce planning forms a key part of the programme is key in ensuring the public pound delivers the best value, recognising a race to the bottom on price doesn’t always deliver the greatest value or aide long-term affordability and sustainability.

Legislation

Changes in existing legislation or the passing of new legislation drives the need for more staff in affected areas. Two examples of which are The Care Act 2014, which has further increased demand in social workers and the Homeless Reduction Act 2017, which has highlighted a need for professionals within housing solutions. Setting up a strategic workforce plan allows local authorities to address some of these challenges.

Skills shortages and an ageing workforce

Local government has an ageing workforce across many key professions, particularly in social care. This situation is reaching a crisis point across an increasing number of councils.

The ONS reports by 2046, people aged 65 and older will make up 24.7% of the population. By 2025, one in three of the working-age population will be 50 or over. Local authorities need to plan ahead to address this problem. How? Strategic workforce planning.

Taking a long-term approach in a changing talent market

The talent market today is becoming less candidate-led. When IR35 rolls out in the private sector next year this will also help level the playing field for public sector organisations as they are able to promote purpose above take-home pay. But local authorities still need to take a more strategic, proactive approach to their long-term workforce management plans.

It’s never been more important for local authorities to be well-prepared for the current and expected spikes in demand for key worker roles across social care, revenues and benefits support staff, and change management.

By identifying talent gaps, workforce planning creates greater opportunities for service improvement at reduced costs. More importantly, it facilitates long-term, strategic thinking. As we exit lockdown and the economy begins to recover, local authorities invested in workforce planning will reap the benefits as the competition for talent intensifies.

Building workforce planning around strategic priorities

Digitalisation

Many local authorities and councils understand digitalisation needs to happen, and fast. As public services face the challenges of increasing demand with limited budgets, finding new ways of using technology becomes paramount.

Today, there is a greater need to deliver better services while simultaneously driving greater productivity and reducing operational costs. As we are seeing across the British economy, digitalisation plays a big part in this.

But such transformation necessitates attracting new people to build, implement and run these platforms effectively — especially if councils want to ensure they deliver better public services.

Workforce planning has a clear part to play here. If local authorities are to hire and retain the talent needed to make the transition to digital services smooth, seamless and fruitful, a forward-thinking, strategic approach is not a nice-to-have, it’s business-critical.

Commercialisation

COVID-19 presents questions about the future of funding for local authorities. With no reduction in the demand for public services, the need for local government organisations to diversify their income portfolio becomes more acute.

In order to protect valuable frontline services and ensure positive outcomes for local communities, councils are increasingly turning to commercialisation as an additional income stream to mitigate the effects of austerity.

Some local authorities, such as Bristol City Council, are selling off major assets (in this case Bristol Energy) to cover costs. Others are looking at alternative sources of commercialisation.

This business model requires an innovative and entrepreneurial workforce to develop and drive income-generating solutions, ensuring effective and efficient service delivery. Workforce planning identifies the critical talent categories and skills gaps required to execute these objectives as well as setting out the steps needed to recruit skilled workers.

This article is an edited chapter from Guidant Global’s latest public sector report addressing some of the biggest challenges we’re facing today. Click the link below to access your copy.

Click to read The elevated role of an MSP in a crisis: a focus on the UK public sector

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