Workforce Planning is a highly variable topic due to its diverse meaning to both businesses and management. This occurs as a result of the context of each business and its workforce requirements. It may even vary within the business depending on the focus of the unit and the staff it employs.
With changing workforce demographics and the impending retirement of generation X, workforce planning has become a high business and government priority. This has been highlighted in reports by bodies including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Australian Productivity Commission and Health Workforce Australia (now Commonwealth Department of Health). The latter two organisations publish reports that have a long-term view of over 10 years into the future and identify workforce issues and risks.
The basis of this long-term planning is through mechanisms such as workforce, service and economic modelling. The calculations behind these tools are beyond this article but a paper on workforce modelling methodology is available here. This methodology is utilised by NSW Health to undertake its workforce modelling projections.
Workforce modelling projections are utilised to determine if the projected future workforce is adequate or if there is a workforce deficit. This workforce surplus or deficit is useful in understanding the quantum of the difficulty in that workforce, but provides little narrative other than on a consolidated level (usually Australia-wide or State/Territory).
Risk in a workforce context
The main concern is that a consolidated workforce model does not provide any insight at a more micro level within the workforce modelling projection. As workforce distribution is not even or consistent between planning areas or groups, other mechanisms such as risk need to be utilised. Risk has traditionally been used by businesses in critical or sensitive areas but it has rarely been addressed with workforce.
Understanding and resolving risk in a workforce context has traditionally not been managed well. When an adverse event occurs, it usually results in uncertainty; but when it escalates, workforce planning effectiveness is reduced. Broader business issues can trigger this but it will most likely occur from the loss of an essential workforce resource in a business or a community (e.g. loss of a doctor). A reactive methodology is commonly applied to resolve the resulting workforce issues, which is a drain on resources and ultimately disrupts business processes.
In identifying these issues, NSW Health is utilising risk to categorise workforce characteristics that are outliers in the workforce dataset (e.g. a large cohort in a geographical location with retirement intentions under two years). As there are many characteristics considered, one outlier for a workforce may not be critical but if a number of outliers occur then the risk becomes more severe.
Like workforce planning, the identification of risk needs to be categorised. The ranking of outliers involves standard risk matrixes that provide rankings from minimal to catastrophic. This creates greater context in the overall workforce modelling projection and elevates it to a similar level to other critical planning that businesses undertake.
A greater understanding of the workforce is important to businesses and governments. This can be achieved through workforce planning methodologies which should consider risk as an integral part of this process. Risk within Workforce Planning should be no different than when addressing other risks within business and ultimately it needs to become a part of “business as usual” planning.
Todd Hunt is speaking on ‘Using data to evidence change & assess workforce risks’ at the Health Workforce Planning & Development Conference this April. Book your place by February 26th to save $200.