Auditor-General's overview

Workforce planning in Crown Research Institutes.

Public organisations should be considering their workforce needs as a matter of good management practice. Planning an organisation’s workforce in a structured and co-ordinated way can help achieve effective and efficient outcomes. Workforce planning encourages organisations to understand the mix of skills and knowledge held by their staff – collectively and individually. This enables organisations to identify whether they need to change that mix of skills and knowledge to support the delivery of their goals. It allows an organisation to adapt effectively when strategic business needs change, and can help identify the staff with organisational knowledge that needs to be retained.

Knowing the current and foreseeable workforce needs allows an organisation to establish recruitment and retention strategies to attract and retain staff with the right mix of skills and knowledge at the right time.

Crown Research Institutes (CRIs) are the largest providers of scientific research in New Zealand. Their staff have a diverse range of research, science, and technology skills and have an important role in enhancing economic growth and environmental well-being. CRIs’ ability to deliver research, science, and technology products depends on attracting and retaining people with the necessary skills and knowledge. Competition for science skills, changing workforce demographics, and tight labour markets pose a risk to CRIs’ ability to attract and retain staff, and therefore to scientific research in New Zealand.

My staff carried out a performance audit of the workforce planning within all nine CRIs. The audit focused on how CRIs identify their workforce needs, establish initiatives to address their needs, and monitor and evaluate those initiatives.

Overall, my staff found that all the CRIs had established, or were establishing, appropriate systems to support effective workforce planning. I was pleased that all the CRIs were considering how workforce planning could support their capability management more effectively. However, the maturity of workforce planning differed between the CRIs.

Two CRIs had comprehensive and established systems to support effective workforce planning. They were analysing their workforce needs and using this analysis to inform their training, recruitment, and retention initiatives. They were monitoring and evaluating progress so that they could modify existing initiatives or create new ones as their needs changed.

Five CRIs were developing their workforce planning. These CRIs were embedding workforce planning systems in their organisations, collecting and analysing data about their staff, and carrying out some monitoring and measuring of progress.

Two CRIs were in the early stages of carrying out their workforce planning. These CRIs had systems for gathering data about their workforce, but their ability to use this information was limited by incomplete data or a lack of capacity to analyse the data. The problems with data quality meant it was more difficult for these CRIs to have a comprehensive view of their workforce needs and, therefore, to create initiatives to address those needs. However, these CRIs recognised that their staffing challenges required a more strategic approach and were establishing systems and initiatives to support this.

Workforce planning is a long-term process. It can take several attempts to set up the systems and strategies that enable an organisation to effectively manage its mix of staff skills and knowledge. Because of this, it is unsurprising that some CRIs have established workforce planning systems while others have not.

Attracting and retaining a skilled workforce was a concern for CRIs. Each CRI linked its delivery of research, science, and technology products to its ability to attract and retain skilled staff. CRIs were facing similar challenges in attracting and retaining suitably qualified and experienced researchers, scientists, and technicians. These challenges included skill shortages in some science disciplines, competition for science skills locally and internationally, and difficulties in providing competitive pay.

While funding was outside the scope of our audit, CRI staff repeatedly raised the topic in discussions with my staff. Many CRIs considered that funding uncertainties affect their ability to plan their workforce effectively. They commented that short-term funding priorities for science programmes can change, which makes it harder to plan longer-term capability. Science skills are often so specialised that scientists cannot easily be reassigned to other programmes if a funding bid is unsuccessful. When funding is lost, it can be difficult for CRIs to maintain their capability unless they have internal resources to support a science programme and retain skills for this. In spite of these challenges, some CRIs were using workforce planning to help position themselves to adapt effectively to changes in their environment.

I do not have a prescriptive view of systems and strategies that organisations should use to ensure that they have a workforce with the right mix of skills and knowledge. However, I consider that well co-ordinated workforce planning can help CRIs to manage their workforce effectively, given the challenges they face in attracting and retaining staff.

My staff wrote to each CRI, describing its performance against our audit expectations and setting out any areas where it needs to improve.

The CRIs responded positively to this report and suggestions for improvement. Many have signalled that they intend to continue developing and improving their workforce planning systems and, in doing so, will seek and share ideas with other CRIs.

I thank the staff of the CRIs for their assistance in providing information for this audit.

Kevin Brady's signature

K B Brady
Controller and Auditor-General

4 May 2009

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