HR Barometer: Strategic Workforce Planning 2024

In addition to selection and recruitment, training and development have become a main priority in human resources management for Belgian businesses. However, despite its critical importance, strategic workforce planning (SWP) remains largely ad hoc. These insights stem from our HR Barometer 2024 involving 124 of Belgium’s 250 largest employers.

Ellen Volckaert

HR Priorities & Trends in Belgium

Every year Hudson and Vlerick Business School examine the HR priorities and challenges in Belgium, by conducting a survey among the HR managers and directors of Belgium’s leading for-profit organizations. What is currently happening in the Belgian HR landscape? Which domains are considered as high priority and which represent the biggest challenge? Each year, the HR Barometer delves into a pertinent HR issue. For the 10th edition of our annual survey, we decided to scrutinize Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP). How is SWP approached by HR professionals in Belgium, and do they feel ready to tackle this topic?

HR Focus shifts to Training and Development

This year, training and development have ascended to the top three priorities for Belgian HR departments, alongside leadership development and selection & recruitment. While the latter remains significant, it has now been surpassed by training & development, marking a notable shift in priorities. However, the ongoing challenge remains twofold: finding the right personnel and providing sufficient opportunities for their continued development.

According to Ellen Volckaert, Senior Manager R&D at Hudson, this change reflects a heightened focus on individual development to ensure long-term employability. However, this focus on immediate business needs often sidelines transformative initiatives like HR Analytics or Strategic Workforce Planning, which could provide solutions to some of these HR challenges.

The Importance of Strategic Workforce Planning

Despite its critical importance, strategic workforce planning remains largely ad hoc. The HR Barometer 2024 also points out that most businesses are still lacking a sufficiently strategic or long-term approach when it comes to workforce planning. Addressing future needs, as well as supply and demand resulting from internal or external changes, remains somewhat ad hoc. Most HR actions are geared towards filling immediate gaps, prioritizing set roles over flexible skills. These challenges, combined with concerns about not having the right skill set, are keeping HR departments from taking moving forward and developing their strategic workforce planning.

Strategic Workforce Planning within HR Departments

Strategic Workforce Planning can be defined as the proactive business process that aligns organisational needs and external evolutions with an organisation’s people strategy and staffing needs. The goal of Strategic Workforce Planning is to ensure that an organisation has the right people in the right place at the right time to achieve its objectives.

Despite not being a top priority in the past ten years of HR Barometer research, the current survey underlines its importance within HR departments:

  • Many (65%) HR leaders are convinced about the importance of Strategic Workforce Planning, but few (13%) are happy with current outcomes.

  • In most organisations (77%) Strategic Workforce Planning is already conducted on an ad hoc or regular basis, and SWP responsibilities are not often formalised in a dedicated function or job description.

  • HR seems to be in the driving seat for Strategic Workforce Planning: 90% finds HR in charge to further professionalize Strategic Workforce Planning and in many organisations (42%) CHROs already have end responsibility.

  • Key drivers for Strategic Workforce Planning are the business itself (86%) and organisational strategy (76%); Strategic Workforce Planning is less driven by the external environment (51%).

Strategic Workforce Planning focus on quantitative shortages

For about 29% of respondents, Strategic Workforce Planning is a purely theoretical exercise with no concrete actions resulting from it. For companies actively involved in Strategic Workforce Planning, ‘demand forecasting’ – identifying future needs in terms of talent (91%) is most popular. In addition, 82% also look at the available supply of talent inside their own business. Actively working out scenarios for internal business and external geopolitical or market shifts happens the least. External Talent Supply Analysis is also not very popular (54%).

  • Current Strategic Workforce Planning seems to be focused on a 1-year horizon (44%) or 2-5 years horizon (36%), and on critical business functions (52%) or bottleneck professions (32%); only 31% of organisations applies SWP to all their functions.

  • Gap analyses are mainly directed towards Quantitative shortages, with no clear distinction between current (72%) or future (73%) ones, and traditional jobs (77%) and skills (72%): 78% wants to adopt a more skill-based lens in the future; There is less emphasis on tasks (31%) or roles (56%).

  • HR leaders indicate ‘Buying’ new staff (85%) and ‘Binding’ existing staff to the company (80%) as most popular talent strategies to close identified workforce gaps.

Main Obstacles for Strategic Workforce Planning

The main obstacles to effective Strategic Workforce Planning implementation include the complexity of the process and a perceived skills gap among HR managers. Strategic Workforce Planning ranks lowest among mastered competencies, and only a minority of respondents utilize specialized technology or mapping tools for data collection in this area. Finally, only 23% of respondents reported using specialized technology or mapping tools to gather Strategic Workforce Planning data.

About the HR Barometer

The HR Barometer is a yearly initiative by Vlerick Business School and Hudson. This online survey was administered to the 250 HR managers and directors of Belgium’s largest for-profit organisations. In total, 124 organisations participated in the survey. This research was led by Ellen Volckaert (Hudson Benelux) and Professor Dirk Buyens (Vlerick Business School).

More information?

Download the full HR Barometer report or paper 2024.

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