Using data analytics to steer strategic workforce planning

Using data analytics to steer strategic workforce planning
Jan 13, 2022

Want to put the right people with the right skills in the right positions in your organization? Data analytics play a key role in developing an effective workforce action plan for any company’s current and future workplace needs.

We use data analytics to address a full range of strategic human capital issues—from recruitment and staffing to development and training to succession planning. When applied, these analytics can make it easier to evaluate operations issues including time to fill positions, accession and replacement rates, and workforce diversity—all of which help fine-tune human capital systems and processes.

Case in point: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Following a major reorganization that transferred in new programs and more than doubled the size of its workforce, one U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agency needed the ability to evaluate workforce capacity and better position itself to recruit, develop, maintain, and motivate its people. We worked closely with the agency to conduct a comprehensive strategic workforce plan guided in analytics to support HHS’ distinct needs using data analytics.

Blending information about the agency’s strategic direction with data analytics revealed the demand for talent. A comprehensive review, which included labor market patterns and trends, helped to identify potential supply sources for that talent.

This approach helped the agency answer key questions for workforce planning:

  • What are the current and projected estimates for the supply of talent, both internal and external?
  • What is the demand for talent, given the agency’s direction and business strategy?
  • Is there a gap?

Understanding strategic direction

To better understand the agency’s strategic direction and specific workforce strengths, opportunities, and challenges, we conducted interviews and focus groups with managers and staff. Unlike past workforce planning efforts that focused primarily on gathering feedback from management, these groups included all levels of the workforce that gave both a top-down and bottom-up assessment, allowing for a balanced view. More insights about the demand for talent were gained by reviewing recent organization and workplace reports, organizational analysis reports, resource plans, and strategic workforce plans from other similar organizations.

Developing criteria for workforce data analytics

The agency already collected a wide range of workforce demographic data, so it was important to thoughtfully select the right data to analyze to determine the supply sources of talent. Selection criteria required that it be:

  • Readily available and easily mined
  • Accurate and current
  • Relevant for making workforce decisions and taking action

Making the most of internal sources

The internal data used in this case included elements of the current workforce makeup (e.g., age, diversity, position level, span of control); turnover and attrition rates; retirement projections; and staffing levels both in headquarters and field locations. Available data was discrete—drawn from different databases and sources—and while each data element was valuable in and of itself, the individual elements did not provide a holistic picture of the current workforce.

We used the right commercial data analysis tool-enabled connection of the various distinct data sources to present a more complete story of the workforce and gain answers to pressing questions. For example: What might be the impact of retirement projections on mission-critical occupations in distinct program areas by geographic location? Integration of separate data elements into one graphic display illustrated how the retirement eligibility of Washington, D.C.-area employees in critical occupations might impact short and long-term staffing levels for a variety of agency programs. With data analytics and effective visual presentation, the agency was able to specifically evaluate the degree to which its current workforce could meet future talent demands, by program area, position, and geographic location.

Examining external sources

To fill job vacancies, many organizations concentrate on an inward-focused approach to workforce planning without taking into account what is going on outside of the organization in the labor market and changing markets. Labor market data enables a better understanding of emerging trends for creating new jobs and changing roles in current jobs. Such data can also inform organizations about the talent supply by location and provide critical market intelligence on issues like competitiveness and salary range.

Our research focused on labor market data and trends related to the agency’s mission essential occupations to examine the external supply of future talent. Data and job projection reports from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics led to a better understanding of the supply and demand for these essential occupations and the competitiveness of the job market in what might be viewed as a “battle for future talent.” This analysis of the labor market data:

  • Uncovered the required skills for essential occupations
  • Enabled a comparison of future skills needed to those of the agency’s current workforce
  • Underscored the need for job training resources and employee development planning in cases where the demand for essential occupations was on the rise and current staff needed more preparation to take on new jobs and roles

Gap analysis and findings

By analyzing the data highlighting the gap between the demand and supply for talent, the agency gained an actionable workforce plan. Short- and longer-term actions based on the biggest gaps addressed: recruitment and hiring practices; leadership and employee development; performance management; and employee motivation. The analysis highlighted potential changes and expansion of certain job roles and uncovered potential career transition opportunities to new program areas where the demand for talent was greater.

Planning for the future with predictive analytics

By producing a data-driven strategic workforce plan, an HHS agency was able to:

  • Align its strategic direction with current staffing levels and talent management
  • Develop a clearer understanding of the demand and supply for critical mission-oriented occupations and talent
  • Employ a more objective approach for using metrics when making decisions and prioritizing future workforce investments in recruiting and staff development.
  • In this case, a blended approach to data analytics in workforce planning followed a systematic methodology tailored to meet the agency’s goals and its need for attracting, developing, and maintaining a ready, willing, and able workforce.

With integrated tools, organizations are able to quickly use and compare disparate sources of raw data, present them graphically to view historical trends and run a range of workforce planning scenarios. With targeted use of big data, organizations are able to use predictive analytics and get answers to “what if” questions that help build and maintain a high-performing, well-prepared workforce.

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