Workforce considerations and planning in the health care sector – Part 2

The idea of workforce planning

In Part 2 of this blog I will discuss the idea of workforce planning as an organisational practice and will consider practical models and methods for delivering practices in the workplace, with a focus on the health care sector. The workforce planning process has been well documented and essentially it is a sub component of a strategic plan. Although workforce plans are not commonly seen in OD departments I think we will start to see a demand for them as the ageing population starts to exit the workforce and we are forced to consider new approaches towards managing people and organisations.

The difficultly with workforce planning in the health care industry is that we are dealing with the unknown, we can’t predict precisely what the future needs of a health care system are going to be. Parsons (2010) raises the question is workforce planning an art or a science and I think this is a interesting question to consider. Like Parsons I think workforce planning is a bit of both. It is about quantitative statistics, measuring and analysing the data, but it is also about using a bit of creativity and intuition when coming up against things we simply can’t predict.

Workforce planning models

In most literature workforce planning is talked about from a supply and demand perspective. The simpler models essentially consider the current workforce against future workforce needs and then suggest doing a gap analysis to determine workforce strategies and plans. However as I discovered resources such as the Centre for Workforce Intelligence I started to realise that workforce planning can be a far more sophisticated process that includes statistical forecast modeling. I have not been exposed to these methods so it was wonderful to learn something new that I can apply to the workplace.

One of the most thoughtful and meaningful workforce planning frameworks that I have viewed in this process is the framework from CFWI. The CFWI is essentially a centre of excellence in workforce planning for health care providers in the UK. I think it is wonderful concept by the UK and it is pleasing to see a government take such innovative action for a highly important issue. The CFWI has developed this framework to ensure health providers have the knowledge and practical tools they need to deliver workforce planning effectively. I thought it touched on some of the most important areas of this organisation practice and would like to share some of their ideas with you.

Workforce Intelligence

This is where an organisation focuses on analysing workforce data and interpreting the results to provide meaningful information about the workforce.  For example in a CFWI report NHS workforce intelligence indicated that some particular specialist nursing roles remain difficult to recruit. As a result these particular nursing roles were added to the National Shortage Occupation list and action was consequently taken. If organisations like the NHS can predict what sort of problems they are going to have in the near future they can respond appropriately and target their efforts in the right strategic areas. I believe that workforce intelligence is a very powerful concept and organisations should make it a priority to invest in human capital management systems. From my experience organisations see the value in investing in financial systems so why don’t they invest in high quality human capital management systems?

I strongly support and believe that workforce intelligence will become a critical practice for many organisations, not just for workforce planning, but things like identifying and tracking talent, in particular emerging leaders, and monitoring workforce transitions in terms of recruitment and retention. In fact the Harvard Business Review has reflected the trend of businesses using data analysis in a recent article Data Scientists – the sexiest job in the 21st Century. This article highlights the compelling story of businesses turning to data analysis to provide insights and to start capitalising on them.

Workforce modeling

Workforce modeling is challenging to understand but put simply it is about testing variable scenarios drawing on a range of information, including historical and projected data. For example the Northern Territory in Australia projected the requirement for, and supply of medical professionals. Growth in population was considered and patterns of population ill health to project the future need for treatment and the medical workforce required to meet that particular need. The inflow and outflow of medical practitioners and important trends and influences (variables) including migration, average working hours and ageing were considered.

I assumed that there would be a shortage of medical professionals but what the report in fact predicted was an over-supply, albeit small. And it was interesting to understand this depended on two factors; that NT could continue to attract and retain medical practitioners at past levels and that funding was available to support such growth. A number of critical issues were also highlighted. The report showed the NT has no problem in attracting medical professionals (inflow) but when it comes to retaining them large outflows indicate that the state is less successful at doing this. I find these results fascinating and what they show is that retention and funding need to be a focus area for the state. This is a great example of how modeling can help to determine what specific workforce strategies should be in place.

In today’s economic climate where the government and organisations are having to really question every dollar being spent, modeling and forecasting can play an important role in helping us decide what money should be spent on. There is no doubt in my mind that workforce modeling will become a growth area for strategic HR.

Scenario Generation

The CFWI suggests that scenario generation is based on considering high-impact and high-uncertainty driving forces (technological, economic, legal, social, environmental) that might shape the future and then generating a range of plausible solutions. One could say that it is similar to scenario planning which has been around for a while. Scenario generating or planning is usually done in the form of an open workshop.

The CFWI recently was part of a scenario-generating workshop that considered the following:  Thinking up to the year 2040 what factors will influence: 1. Requirement of the future medical/dental workforce and 2. Future medical/dental workforce numbers and proportions. The workshop allowed participants to determine driving forces, cluster the driving forces, define the cluster outcomes and produce an impact uncertainty matrix. From this scenarios were scoped and developed. Modeling is then used to quantify the scenarios generated and reports were developed to discuss the scenarios in further detail. I find the end-to-end workshop process for scenario generation inspiring and invigorating. Similar to strategy planning I think it gives managers and leaders the ability to express their creative ideas with the focus on real future challenges in mind.


Horizon scanning is when an organisation does research to consider the potential influences, challenges and opportunities that might impact and informs decisions around the development of the workforce. Horizon scanning may explore unexpected issues as well as persistent problems.

The CFWI breaks horizon-scanning research into two research areas, macro and micro level. The macro focuses on the ‘big picture’ challenges in the health sector. Evidence is developed through research and can influence planning and development of the workforce. For example research into the ageing population could be seen as macro level research. Micro level research focuses on a specific research question by profession or trend. Considering what type of specialist medical roles are likely to be needed in the future is an example of micro level research. It is most likely organisations already do horizon scanning in the form of strategic planning, but I think as professionals we are only beginning to realise the critical importance of it. Perhaps that is because we are in tune with concept of global economic change and the idea of uncertainty.

The beginning of the new health care sector 

As I consider these challenges for the health care sector they are in doubt complex and real. They will require systematic and holistic change in health care sector organisations. However I think if we can plan robustly through practices such as workforce planning we can make a substantial positive difference to how our organisations respond to future scenarios and uncertainties. Learning so much about workforce planning has inspired me to join a new network group and I hope that I have given you some inspiration to consider workforce planning practices and how they could add value in your organisation.


Parsons, Donna (2010), Medical Workforce Planning: an art or science? The difficult problem of matching supply and demand, Human Resource Management International Digest, London


One Response to Workforce considerations and planning in the health care sector – Part 2

  1. Sue Grey-Smith says:

    This is a really interesting concept that has made me realise how HR can encompass a great deal more than just managing day-to-day employee concerns. Workforce planning fits very neatly into an organisation’s strategic planning in a practical way and would be vital for any organisation that wants to remain relevant and successful. It would be interesting to apply this discussion on the health care sector to some other sectors such as mining which seems to react to changing resources prices and suddenly sack employees if the price goes down!

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