Aircraft manufacturer Boeing is using predictive workforce modeling,
partnerships with universities, and a variety of other tools to identify and
fill in talent gaps before they become a problem, speakers told a Jan. 31
webinar sponsored by consulting firm Mercer.
Boeing has been “religiously” using a chart with six elements on it for the
past six-and-a-half years to fill in talent gaps, Dianna Peterson, senior
director of strategic workforce planning at Boeing, said. Those elements are:
defined approach targeted at end users;
to business strategies and plans;
gaps and identifying solutions;
using sophisticated tools;
gap mitigation; and
long-range people plans.
Especially in large organizations like Boeing, “processes die easily of their
own weight, so keeping it simple is fundamental,” Peterson said.
Boeing employs 170,000 people in the United States and in 70 countries.
“My team is responsible for the process to identify critical skills,” she
explained. “We are able to identify critical skills for the enterprise and do
analysis on supply and demand of those skills.” For example, Peterson said, the
team determined at one point that “one of our gaps was we didn't have any job
classifications for cyber skills,” which instead were scattered among various
One goal at the company is to predict talent gaps before they emerge through
predictive workforce modeling. This starts with program and functional
organization staffing profiles, said Bruce Ballard, senior manager of workforce
intelligence at Boeing.
Several factors have to be considered, including predicted business trends at
Boeing and associated workforce skill needs; workforce demographics (including
skill populations, job levels, age, and retirement eligibility); predicted
changes in the national economy; workforce-related policies (including staffing
growth or reductions, promotions, and retirements); and workforce trends in
retirements, voluntary terminations, internal transfers, and promotions.
“Optimizing the flow of talent internally is a critical first step to make
sure you can ramp up the supply of talent to meet future demand,” Brian Kelly, a
partner and global practice leader in workforce analytics and planning at
Mercer, noted. “It's more cost effective because you're not going outside the
organization. Second, there's a cultural fit, and turnover issues will be
minimized or mitigated.”
The predictive data Ballard detailed can be used to produce annual forecasts
of key workforce demographics, the personnel transactions required to achieve
and maintain them, and potential skills gaps and surpluses, he said. The idea is
to develop a holistic model of the population of interest and an action plan to
deal with resignations and retirements, other attrition such as layoffs, and
internal transfers outside the population of interest.
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The plan includes a forecast of “skills management actions needed to mitigate
the forecasted skill gaps,” through promotions within the population of
interest, transfers from other departments, or external hiring. “You can get a
sense of what's coming and invest time and money more wisely,” Ballard said.
For a company as large as Boeing it's essential to keep an eye on larger
trends, since, for example, government data show there are 67,000 college
graduates per year in engineering, and the company employs a total of 35,000
engineers. “That tells you why we're concerned about the pipeline,” Peterson
said. Building relationships with universities is one way the company deals with
In the final analysis, “a key for us is, with all the key data we present to
HR, it really is about changing behavior throughout the company with facts and
data,” Peterson said.
“More and more organizations are now putting in place [workforce planning]
analytics--this is now a core competency of HR,” Kelly said. “But it is still a
struggle to connect that with business outcomes.”
By Martin Berman-Gorvine