Boeing Soars Over Potential Talent Gaps With Its Workforce Planning Strategies

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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:

• a defined approach targeted at end users;

• links to business strategies and plans;

• diagnosing gaps and identifying solutions;

• analysis using sophisticated tools;

• recommending gap mitigation; and

• defining 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 engineering functions.

Predictive Workforce Modeling

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.”

Are Skies Ahead Full of Gaps?

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 this.

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  


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