Studies show that more than half of Canadian employers report that their businesses are facing significant skills gap challenges. This ongoing skills gap is impacting employers that maintain a large-volume workforce at even higher levels. For example, 78% of employers in the accommodation and food industry, 67.8% of employers in the retail sector and 67.6% in the manufacturing industry are facing skills gaps within their workforces. This issue is even more challenging given today’s tight labour market.

This lack of skilled workers is preventing some organizations from accepting new projects or implementing new technologies in their workplaces. Ultimately, it can impact their ability to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced economies. Companies can no longer sit by and watch the skills gap widen even more. Instead, they must take effective action now to acquire and retain these in-demand skills.

Two woman sitting on a window sill looking at papers.
Two woman sitting on a window sill looking at papers.

One of the most effective ways to prepare your workforce for both today and the years to come is to develop a strong workforce planning strategy. This type of business plan can help your company identify what skills and talents it needs now and for the future as well as develop short and long-term strategies to acquire and retain these skills.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the most common mistakes employers make when developing and implementing a workforce planning strategy . Learning from these common mistakes can help your company avoid making the same errors when developing its plan.

what is workforce planning and why is it important?

Workforce planning is the process of evaluating your organization’s current and future labour, skills and competency needs, identifying skills gaps and developing strategies to acquire these specific skills. For smaller companies, workforce planning might be a simple process. But for employers with large workforces, the planning process may be quite complex and is likely to require the development of a planning committee.

However, when done correctly, workforce planning can provide your organization with a wide range of benefits, such as:

  • identify specific skills gaps within the workforce
  • forecast the future talent needs of the company
  • enhance the hiring process and improve outcomes
  • cut recruitment and workforce management costs
  • provide real-time worker insights
  • build an agile, flexible workforce that you can scale up and down as needed

Workforce planning is a great tool at any time, but when you factor in today’s critical labour shortage and widening skills gap it’s become a critical component of company success. Without a solid strategy in place, your company is likely to feel one step behind its competitors.

8 common workforce planning mistakes

1. not developing a structured workforce planning strategy

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make when it comes to workforce planning is failure to develop a structured strategy. Typically, this happens when organizations narrowly focus on their current talent needs and workforce planning is intertwined with the recruitment process. This unstructured process cannot only prove to be more costly and time-consuming, but it’s also not likely to deliver the results your company needs.

Instead, it’s important to invest in a well-structured workforce planning strategy that you can tailor to meet the specific current and future labour demands of your company. This requires you to extend your focus beyond just the current needs of the company and identify what skills, talents and competencies it will need in the next 1, 3, 5 or even 10 years.

For example, if your company is anticipating opening a new production facility or distribution center in a new location, don’t wait to start the workforce planning process. Take the time now to develop a plan for acquiring the skilled talent needed to staff a new site. For instance, can some of your current workers transfer to the new location? Alternatively, you can identify the skill sets needed for opening this new location and take steps to proactively build a talent pool of potential candidates.

By incorporating both short and long-term goals into your workforce planning strategy, your company can always stay one step ahead of the competition, which is crucial considering today’s tight labour market.

2. failure to align HR objectives with business goals

Another common mistake is failure to align HR objectives with business goals. This can be a very costly mistake. If your HR workforce planning objectives are not in alignment with the overall vision of the company, you may end up wasting time and resources building unnecessary strategies.

For instance, let’s say that you recognize the need for more digital skills in the workplace. What you don’t know is that the company is planning to upgrade its technology in the upcoming months. In this scenario, you’re likely to develop a training program based on the current needs of the company rather than the skills needed to manage the new technology. Without collaboration with senior executives, you will waste time acquiring skills the company no longer needs.

To prevent this from happening, it’s crucial that you collaborate with senior executives to better understand the overall goals and objectives of the company. This collaboration understanding ensures that your workforce planning efforts focus on meeting these company objectives and that everyone is working towards the same goals.

3. lack of senior executive support

Workforce planning is a business practice that requires a buy-in at the executive level. First, you’re going to need to invest in the right tools, such as training and talent development, to implement a successful workforce planning strategy, which requires executive approval. Secondly, you need at least some members of the executive team to be part of the planning process to ensure alignment with the company’s vision.

Unfortunately, this buy-in can be difficult to secure, especially at a time of fluctuating inflation concerns. It’s important, however, for your HR team to develop a sense of urgency. They should explain to their corporate leaders the impact of the current labour shortage and ongoing skills gap and that the only way to overcome these challenges is to take proactive measures, such as creating a workforce planning strategy.

This is especially important for organizations that require a large workforce to meet production goals. With no workforce planning strategy in place, the challenge to acquire skilled talent is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

4. limited cross-functional collaboration

While we’ve already discussed the need for executive members to be on the workforce planning team, other key members are just as important, including HR personnel, the finance and IT department, floor managers and shift supervisors. It’s only through cross-functional collaboration with the entire team, that your organization can develop a robust strategy that meets the unique needs of the company.

Right from the start, set a schedule for how often your team should meet, so everyone knows the commitment level expected. Also, develop a communication method that keeps all team members up to date on the latest aspect of the workforce planning strategy. A strong communication plan can keep everyone on the same page. When it comes to the implementation of these strategies, communication will be key to its success.

5. no continuous movement

Workforce planning is not a stagnant process nor is it a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. Instead, workforce planning is a continuous process that shifts and evolves as the needs of the company change. It is a five-step process that works in a continuous loop.

This circular process is necessary because the overall goals and objectives of the company can change significantly from one year to another. In some cases, from one month to another. You should set a schedule based on your company’s specific demands to reevaluate your workforce planning strategy and work through all five steps again.

This frequent evaluation allows you to regularly assess the company’s current skill sets and identify any skills gaps within the workforce. It also allows you to reestablish company goals and determine if any changes are on the horizon. This ongoing assessment is vital to the long-term success of your workforce planning strategy.

6. failure to maximize the use of tech and data

Don’t forget to incorporate analytical data into your workforce management strategy. Otherwise, you might be playing more of a guessing game than accurately preparing the company for the future. Start by collecting and analyzing basic workplace metrics, such as turnover rates, quality of hire, productivity rates, compliance rates and vacancy rates. This data can help you identify specific challenges within the company and set a baseline for measuring results.

You should also use more advanced technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. This technology can play a critical role in forecasting the future needs of the company, identifying skills gaps and determining which skills may become obsolete. Without this analytical data, it could be nearly impossible for your team to accurately predict all the company’s future needs.

Fortunately, most companies are already collecting a vast amount of workforce-related data. Rely on your IT department to deliver the analytical tools needed to transform this data into meaningful results. There is so much data you can use to assess the current state of your workforce and predict its future needs. Don’t make the mistake of failing to maximize the use of the analytical data.

7. never evaluating and adjusting the strategy

A common mistake that many organizations make when implementing many business strategies is failure to evaluate and adjust the strategy. You cannot expect your first strategy to work perfectly and never need adjusting. Furthermore, just as the needs of your organization are constantly shifting and evolving, so should your workforce planning strategy.

Take the time to track milestones and use predetermined metrics to measure the overall success of your current strategy and make adjustments as needed. You also need to redefine your company goals and objectives and make sure the current strategies in place still align with these goals. Finally, develop new workforce planning strategies to address the new and emerging talent needs of the company.

By continuously analyzing and adjusting your workforce planning strategies, you can be sure you’re using the most effective tools to meet your company’s current and future talent needs.

8. reluctance to invest in outside support

Managing a large workforce is no easy task. Between last-minute callouts and scheduled time off, it can be difficult to ensure you have enough workers to fill all shifts. To help with this process, many companies are relying on flexible workers, such as contingent workers, to provide additional workforce support as necessary. This strategy allows companies to scale up or down their workforce to meet production demands.

While this can be an effective strategy, managing a contingent workforce also has its complexities. Your company can have the best of both worlds by partnering with an agency like Randstad to handle the contingent workforce management process for you. With our Randstad Inhouse Services, your dedicated, on-site account specialist can handle many of the day-to-day tasks of managing a contingent workforce, so you have more time to focus on developing the company’s overall workforce planning strategy.

To learn more about incorporating a workforce planning strategy to meet the demands of your high-volume workforce, download our guide to workforce planning today.

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