The post-pandemic workforce landscape is uncertain, with SUMS seeing changing attitudes towards working expectations, continued instability and new perceptions of culture and connection both inside and outside the sector.  Leaders have an opportunity to try to understand, plan for, and manage these uncertainties - and in doing so can move from being reactive to proactive.  In our latest briefing paperSUMS Consultant Emma Ogden shares insight on effective workforce planning in Higher Education.

Effective strategic workforce planning in HE is a critical success factor for an organisation. It involves designing, developing, and delivering your future workforce by aligning people, work and competencies with your strategy and objectives, to drive delivery and performance.  It will analyse, visualise, and identify what you need in terms of the size, type, experience, knowledge, and skills of your workforce.  It is a tool that can help you adapt quickly to change, leading to higher, more reliable delivery and a leaner, optimised workforce. Given staffing and related costs often count for over 50% of overall university spending, why would you not spend time planning the size, shape, and skills of the workforce? However, the HE sector has a relatively immature approach to workforce planning and there is work to do. Below, I highlight some of the key points within our latest SUMS Briefing Paper: The Importance of Strategic Workforce Planning.

What is Workforce Planning?

Put simply, a workforce plan will ensure that an organisation has the right people, with the right skills, at the right place and time, within a budget that you can afford.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines workforce planning as:

“[the] process of balancing labour supply (skills) against the demand (numbers needed). It includes analysing the current workforce, determining future workforce needs, identifying the gap between the present and the future, and implementing solutions so that an organisation can accomplish its mission, goals, and strategic plan”.

The Importance of Strategic Workforce Planning in the Higher Education Sector

Workforce planning is critical within universities.  Institutions need to create systems that meet the changing student and staff expectations, and effective strategic workforce planning is a mechanism that can help achieve this.  Student and staff experiences and demands are changing, and the workforce needs to adapt to meet needs. Workforce planning within institutions can take several forms and vary in strategic intent and maturity.  With the most mature application of workforce planning, institutions may be able to:

  • Create stronger agility and responsiveness to business needs
  • Design the workforce required to operationalise and deliver future strategic approaches: capability (talent demand) and capacity (supply)
  • Understand and bridge the gap which exists between the current and prospective state of play (skills, behaviours, and resources)
  • Create a road map of objectives through an owned action plan
  • Make informed and strategically aligned talent and resourcing decisions that enable teams to meet the relevant capability and capacity needs
  • Develop a workforce ‘establishment’, which enables informed decisions on resource allocation. This can lead to a reduced need for initiatives such as change or reorganisation when workforce changes can be planned over longer time periods.
  • Reduce cost and resource on reactive recruitment campaigns by improving knowledge and understanding of resource and capability needs
  • Engage with data more meaningfully and as a driver of insight and assessor of impact
  • Improve employee experience by looking at current talent and investing in their development needs.

Developing a Strategic Workforce Plan

The process begins with an exploration of institutional strategy and objectives – for the organisation and then areas that need a specific focus. What opportunities and trends exist which can be exploited, or what challenges are ahead?  It is important that this is future-looking to enable the institution to consider where they want to be and to acknowledge any known landscape changes. While nobody could have predicted Covid-19, the resulting impact and anticipated changes to the marketplace are now being recognised and regulated[1] – for example, changes to the expectations of flexible working and skills shortages in certain specialisms.

Effective workforce planning in Higher Education should include:

  • Ownership
  • An action plan
  • Identified areas for investment
  • Robust data
  • Regular evaluation

Recommendations, Considerations and Resources for Effective Workforce Planning in Higher Education

The process of transitioning from an operational – and largely reactive – workforce planning culture to a strategic, informed, and predictive one may take several iterations.  For our full list of recommendations, you can read the SUMS Briefing Paper.  Here are some initial tools to help you on your journey.


SUMS has developed a Strategic Workforce Planning Toolkit that provides oversight and guidance to help universities complete a successful strategic workforce plan.  It outlines the key principles behind effective workforce planning and includes templates to help you identify your data requirements, explore learning and development needs, and develop your own action plan.  SUMS Members can contact SUMS Consultant Emma Ogden at for a copy of the toolkit.

HR Maturity Assessment

SUMS can provide an assessment of your strategic workforce planning maturity level as part of an HR Maturity Model Assessment.

Best practice examples

For further insight and examples, we recommend the following best practice approaches in developing, implementing and evaluating the success of strategic workforce planning initiatives:

For further information on any of the above please contact Emma Ogden at


[1] Employment Law in Higher Education for 2022 (

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