Workforce considerations and planning in the health care sector – Part 1

Recently I was in discussion with an organisation about an opportunity and one of the key strategic deliverables for the organisation was developing a workforce plan. I have not been exposed largely to workforce planning in the workplace so it gave me a good excuse to start reading and learning about it. This particular organisation was a healthcare provider, which I believe adds another layer of complexity to developing the plan. As HR professionals I think we have a sense of what workforce planning means and what value it can provide, but I am not sure we have fully grasped what it means to develop a rigorous, meaningful and practical workforce plan.

Most of us know that Australia has an ageing population. I believe now is the time for us to start closely looking into this global trend and constructively planning for the future, with an open and curious mind. There are going to be substantial implications, some of these will bring much needed positive change and some will bring great challenges, but through developing rigorous workforce plans I believe we can play an important role in shaping the future of our health system.

What are the facts and figures around the ageing population?

Australia’s population is ageing substantially. The intergenerational report Australia 2050 shows the proportion of working age people is projected to fall, with only 2.7 people of working age to support each Australian aged 65 years and over by 2050 (compared with 5 working aged people per aged persons today (and 7.5 in 1970). What this means for Australia is that there will be fewer workers to support retirees and young dependents. The labour force participation rates are forecasted to drop and as we acknowledge today this may equate to slower economic growth. Australia’s population will continue to grow but it will be at a slower rate then previously experienced.

Future workforce considerations

This may just be ‘future talk’ to the average person, but if you start to consider the impacts of these changing demographic factors that is when you realise we need to be proactive in planning for the future. The current health and hospital system in Australia is stretched considerably with people not being able to access the services they need and the inequalities in the system clearly need to be addressed. Health is a subject discussed regularly in Parliament and in particular it is the demand for extra funding and better quality in the services delivered. Australia spends a huge amount on the health system already, in 2009-10 we spent $121.4 billion, the majority of the money going towards hospitals. However in the future the system will demand more of the governments expenditure, in fact nearly double the amount. How much value we can get out of that extra expenditure depends of how well considered and meaningful our workforce strategies and plans are today.

As the population ages more people will fall into the older age group category, this is the category that has the largest users of health services. We are also living longer which is a wonderful thing, but it has implications. Other social and economic considerations besides the ageing population include the growing burden of chronic disease, workforce pressures and technological advances. To find out exactly what these implications consist of I been researching the ideas and work of the government, both in Australia and the UK. As a start the Workforce Innovation and Reform Strategic Framework for Action 2011-2015 is worth reading, it provides great insight into the issues the health care industry is facing, what sort of health care system we are going to need in the future and has outlined a number of direct action points that need critical attention.

Having immersing myself in this framework I have enjoyed learning about what opportunities there are to develop a better health care system for Australians and I have included these below. I  must point out that interestingly most of these concepts are linked to developing and broadening the practices of the workforce.

As HR professionals we know that organisations don’t change, people do. I think the level of change required in health organisations can be viewed as systematic change, where there is a shift in the inner (personal/psychological) and outer (social/psychological) world. This transformational change required in the health care sector will present new challenges and opportunities for HR professionals. Workforce planning is an excellent tool as it can bring to light the needs and demands of the future, and at the same time allow the organisation to strategically and practically plan for the future workforce/organisation. There is no doubt that workforce planning will play a very important role in meeting the challenges of the future, in particular the ageing population, hence there is a need for us to understand the concept further and I will discuss this in Part 2 of this blog.

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