Your workforce planning strategy is falling short – here’s how to fix it

Companies need to reassess their workforce skills to make sure they have the knowledge and resilience required to navigate current and future gaps, argues Nichola Hay, director of apprenticeship strategy and policy at BPP

Apprentices gather around a piece of technical manufacturing equipment as their taught by an employee how to use it

Unexpected economic changes and an ever-changing business landscape are forcing industries to update and rethink their skills requirements. Around 75% of UK businesses are experiencing talent shortages, hindering business and economic growth. 

The World Economic Forum suggests that globally the most in-demand skills for businesses include AI, data analytics, and systematic thinking. Considering the rise of AI, skills in these areas are expected to be embedded into most job roles in the coming few years, regardless of sector. So how should business leaders approach not only their current staff shortages, but also plan for their future workforce and skills they will need? 

Where are businesses falling short?

Talent shortages are continuing to grow across various sectors because businesses are still resorting to traditional recruitment practices, using inflexible hiring criteria. This can also lead businesses to hire from within a relatively homogenous talent pool. 

Although it is a more convenient method, hiring staff with existing experience may not be the best strategy for all sectors and business requirements. For example, it is unlikely hiring managers will find talent with a breadth of previous experience in roles that are heavily associated with nascent verticals such as generative AI and sustainability. These skill requirements are relatively new, and can have multiple applications depending on individual business needs. 

To tackle this challenge, business leaders must invest more tactically to not only equip their existing workforce with the necessary skills to fill critical vacancies, but also attract a wider, more diverse pool of fresh talent. This could be achieved by introducing retraining and upskilling opportunities such as bootcamps and apprenticeships that can help businesses to continuously adapt to changes in skills requirements, while boosting resilience towards unexpected economic changes. 

The true potential of an apprenticeship programme can be overlooked by the business community – often associating it with creating a career pipeline solely for school/college leavers. But, in reality, professional apprenticeship programmes can be tailored to all business needs, at all levels and for all ages.

Whether they’re used for attracting younger talent with a fresh perspective, retraining existing employees, or upskilling workers in emerging areas, these programmes should be seen as an essential tool for both workforce planning and people development. 

Encouraging diversity and inclusion

They can allow employers to access a wider talent pool too.  Whether it’s full-time carers who have not had the chance to go to university, or those who are displaced and looking to enter a new industry, an apprenticeship can create an opportunity for those candidates who may never have applied for a role due to their lack of direct experience or traditional qualifications. 

They provide opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds to enter and advance in various industries. They promote inclusivity by offering accessible pathways to employment and skill development, ultimately contributing to a more diverse and resilient workforce.

Finding your baseline 

The first step towards building your future workforce is to understand your current one. That means evaluating areas such as recruitment frequency, identifying hard-to-fill positions, the experience required for each role, the average age of staff in every department, the diversity of the workforce and routes for progression to identify any gaps. 

Taking a step back to evaluate the workforce in this way means business leaders can identify where apprentices and degree apprenticeships could be used to ultimately boost productivity. Following that, L&D leads can begin to implement apprenticeships as a workforce planning tool. 

In order to do so, there are steps a business must first take. 

  • Understand how to build career pathways through apprenticeships.
  • Design and introduce new programmes to bring in early talent. 
  • Upskill existing staff to accelerate promotions.

This can either be done internally, or by partnering with training providers who can provide insight tailored to the businesses. This way, business leaders and training experts can also embed an organisation’s values, core purpose and key messaging into the training – developing a tailored, life-long learning approach for staff to thrive as they progress.

Retaining staff with opportunities for development 

One of the biggest challenges for businesses facing economic bottlenecks and rising operational costs, is the immediate impact this has on employees. This may include short-term salary and promotion stagnation which, consequently, leads staff to look for other opportunities. This could further increase unfilled vacancies and deliver a significant blow to productivity. 

Apprenticeships are a great way to address these challenges, equipping employees with new skills and providing them with a pathway to progress, strengthening the business’s credentials as a supportive employer during difficult economic times. For example, if a business is falling short of middle management staff, instead of looking for talent externally in a stressed labour market – an apprenticeship programme would allow existing staff to retrain and upskill for promotion. This can unlock potential that already exists in the current workforce while boosting employee motivation and loyalty.

Although professional apprenticeship programmes won’t be the solution for all business requirements and challenges, they can be a key part of business strategy to solve many critical recruitment and productivity problems. They can act as a workforce planning tool to close skills gaps and boost talent availability, as well as offering new opportunities for expansion during times when organisations may need it the most.