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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

A CRITICAL LACK OF WORKFORCE PLANNING

“We found that Oregon does not have a clear, consistent or comprehensive approach to identify what state government needs to do to support its workforce,” according to a Secretary of State audit released February 29.


Weaknesses in Oregon’s workforce planning aren’t a new problem, but the impact they have on the state’s future has mushroomed in recent years. Here’s why: 


  • A quarter of the workforce is currently retirement eligible. 

  • An explosion of technological developments is changing the nature of many jobs.

  • The continuing workforce shortage, along with the lack of applicants in difficult-to-hire fields, impedes the delivery of state services, and contributes to escalating overtime, turnover and employee burnout.


The audit points out that “data limitations hinder Oregon’s ability to identify needs, gaps and risks in its state workforce”. This problem includes a lack of competency data on the skills and talents of individual employees – information that could help managers better distribute, share, train, grow and keep workers.


Had enough? There’s more. According to the audit, the state lacks documentation of its most mission-critical positions and suffers from “ambiguous roles and responsibilities”, and “fragmented management authority.” At root of that problem is a lack of clarity about the responsibility of agencies to focus on their own workforce planning and uncertain central HR authority to push the issue. Only one of the state’s largest agencies surveyed for the audit had an active workforce plan in place.



On a positive note, the audit does acknowledge that some efforts are now being put in place to improve. 


Oregon’s issues are reflected in many other states and the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), and a long list of other organizations have been trumpeting the need for more attention to this issue.  In fact, the audit points out that 33 states lack current state workforce plans. Fortunately, there are some models from which other states can learn. The audit cites California, Louisiana, Virginia and Washington as doing particularly good jobs. (A handy chart on the 16th page of the audit shows the key elements that go into these four state’s planning systems, while also charting what Oregon lacks.)


There is no shortage of advice about what should be done or about the critical importance of workforce planning. In the articles we’ve written for Route Fifty about the future of government jobs both this year and last year, we heard a constant call for better workforce planning from people both within and outside the HR profession. 


Workforce planning was also included as a key attribute in a well-run human resource system in the state management evaluations that were part of the Government Performance Project (GPP) that was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts from 1998 through 2010 and published in Governing Magazine. (In the last state evaluation in 2008, Oregon was one of 19 states the journalist-academic team rated as weak, with 24 evaluated as “mid-level” and seven as strong.)


We were deeply involved in that project and took some pride at the increase in attention that was paid to this discipline during the twelve years the project ran.  But economic downturns, human resource budget and staffing cuts, and, most recently, the pressures that came with the pandemic and ongoing workforce shortage, have left little time for many human resource officials to focus on the long-term planning that they know is vital.


That’s a sad state of affairs. Ideally, workforce planning should be part of HR management infrastructure, or as the Oregon auditors write: It should be “a continuous process of identifying and closing gaps between the skills an organization requires and the available supply.”


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