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Beyond Headcount Planning: New Tech Addresses Labor Shortage Issues

A group of people looking at a laptop.

​Workforce planning has long involved using spreadsheets to create an accurate employee headcount based on projected financial metrics. While such planning remains essential for HR and talent leaders, many are finding they need new and richer types of information to address pressing challenges like continuing labor shortages, uncertainty about available skills in their own workforces and succession management plans upended by the Great Resignation.

Some are turning to talent intelligence platforms for tools that can provide greater visibility into current capabilities of the workforce, identify skill "adjacencies" in workers that might allow them to be redeployed into open positions and build succession management plans for roles throughout the company, not just at the top executive level.

"Organizations are realizing they don't just need to know the number of heads in the company; they also need to know the current inventory of skills available in the workforce, how to resolve continuing labor supply and demand issues, and what their leadership pipelines now look like," said Josh Bersin, a HR analyst and CEO of the Josh Bersin Academy in Oakland, Calif. "Today you need much more than numeric or headcount data for good workforce planning."

Bersin said providers of talent intelligence platforms include vendors Eightfold, Beamery, Gloat, SkyHive and a number of human capital management technology suite providers who offer products like skills ontology software that can help identify and verify capabilities in the internal workforce.

"What the platforms can do is look at large volumes of data about people inside and outside of your company and aggregate that information into groups," Bersin said. "The technology can analyze data in a way that's much more actionable for today's talent management challenges than just looking at how much headcount you have in a given month."

For example, Bersin said his organization has data showing there will be approximately 2.5 million to 3 million open nursing positions in the next three years in health care organizations.

"Whatever your headcount number is, it's not going to address that growing problem of talent supply and demand," Bersin said. "You have to figure out where those nurses are going to come from. These are bigger, more complex decisions than simply aggregating headcount numbers in an organization, and it represents a big change in how companies need to construct their talent strategies."

Research shows more HR professionals are looking for technologies that can help with labor forecasting and identifying skills gaps in the ranks. One of the key themes from Sapient Insight Group's 2021-2022 HR Systems Survey, for example, was the growth in companies investing in or evaluating skills management software.

New Software Aids Succession Planning

Continuing employee resignations and struggles to fill job openings have combined to disrupt many organizations' succession plans. HR analysts say the nature of succession management has changed, with HR and talent leaders needing to create "bench strength" for a wider variety of roles in the organization.

"Succession planning is no longer just for the top executive level," Bersin said. "With all of the resignations and new initiatives happening in organizations, there's a greater need to identify the most likely people to move into open roles at all levels of the company."

Bersin said many of the same platforms used for talent intelligence can be used for succession planning purposes.

Jarron Rice, global skills lead for John Deere in Austin, Texas, uses a talent intelligence platform from vendor Fuel50 for succession planning. Rice said the platform has given him a new level of insight into the skills and capabilities of his workforce, and the data helps guide decisions around succession planning and internal mobility.

"Seeing skill adjacencies that exist across entirely different job families broadens our view of viable internal candidates," Rice said.

One technology vendor that's reimagined the succession planning process is Columbus, Ohio-based WORQDRIVE. Its platform was built on a belief that succession management should be democratized and companies need greater visibility into the capabilities of their workforces to allow them to better plan for everything from impending retirements to staffing short-term support gigs.

"What we've found is many organizations don't even know the talent they have within their four walls," said Tracey Parsons, CEO of WORQDRIVE. "There are so many people in enterprise companies that have hidden skills or talents from earlier job experiences or side gigs that could be applied to other roles in the company. Our system is designed to bubble up great skill sets not just for open requisitions but also for opportunities outside of the requisitioning system."

Users of WORQDRIVE can search for talent inside their own organizations and identify employee matches based on skills, uniqueness and level of advocacy. Worker skills, certifications and experiences are gathered and validated from human resource information systems.

"We give employees the opportunity to update and augment their information to make it current and relevant," Parsons said. "We also ask employees to invite people within the company to advocate for them and their skills. Because all employee data is anonymized, employees don't know who has or hasn't advocated for them, which allows people to be more honest in their advocacy."

Once short lists of internal candidates are created, WORQDRIVE users can contact those employees through a built-in messaging feature to gauge their interest. The targeted workers' identity remains hidden until they accept the proposed plan.

"We keep it anonymous to build trust with employees," Parsons said. "If a person responds favorably to a request to be on a shortlist, only then do we unmask their identity and interested parties can start having conversations outside of the platform."

DE&I and Workforce Planning

A component of workforce planning also revolves around diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives. At the CUNA Mutual Group in Madison, Wis., chief strategy and human resources officer Linda Nedelcoff uses a technology platform and expertise of a third-party provider to help assess who is likely to retire in the organization and factor DE&I strategies into identifying potential replacements.

CUNA's DE&I initiatives are designed not only to boost hiring of underrepresented candidates but also focus on their promotion and job tenure once on board.

"We've built a form of apprenticeship for our advisor roles to prepare for those advisors who've been identified as probable to retire," Nedelcoff said. "We're partnering with our diverse communities to create a base for those apprenticeship roles to get more minority and female representation. That not only helps with workforce planning, it also helps advance our DE&I goals."

Dave Zielinski is principal of Skiwood Communications, a business writing and editing company in Minneapolis.


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