Keeping strategic workforce planning a priority after initial implementation: Fire and Rescue NSW

The problem

Strategic workforce planning (SWP) is a challenge for Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) as a 24-hour, 7-day a week decentralised emergency service, with a dual role as a public sector agency and an emergency management provider. Their varied workforce includes operational firefighters, administrative staff, policy and logistics experts and specialists such as psychologists, doctors and engineers. FRNSW have embedded SWP in their daily practice by involving all levels of the workforce in the process. After six years, FRNSW has built a culture where SWP is part of the business planning cycle and actions arising are implemented by people across the organisation.

Maintaining a ‘living’ strategic workforce plan

“Over a number of years the business has developed an appetite for workforce planning… logging agreed actions helps participants see the results of each layer of the SWP process” Deputy Commissioner, FRNSW

Tips for action

  • Facilitate understanding and reporting across all levels of the organisation
  • Ensure there is an accountable group to localise and actualise strategies proposed by senior leaders
  • Replace meeting minutes with logs of agreed actions to improve participant accountability and engagement
  • Create planning templates and guiding principles to facilitate effective and consistent workforce planning across teams
  • Routinely present updated data to educate leaders and alert them to potential issues
  • Review workforce planning on a regular basis

The solution

To embed SWP as a routine operation, FRNSW began by:

1. Producing a three-year corporate strategic workforce plan

  • Initially focusing on reflecting the organisation’s profile and identifying the broad workforce planning direction
  • Linking the plan with the FRNSW strategic direction scorecard and the Commissioner’s priorities, and requiring that all workforce planning activities aligned with these directives
  • Providing progress reports for the Executive Leadership Team to evaluate

2. Maintaining workforce buy-in

  • Implementing a four-layered approach to enable shared understanding and responsibility of workforce objectives, and to encourage buy-in from all levels of the agency
  • Building staff awareness of the purpose of each layer and its role within the workforce planning cycle e.g. Commissioner sets the FRNSW strategic direction, the senior executive layer assigns accountability for actions, the cross-functional layer facilitates implementation of actions, the localised level accepts ownership of their actions and forecasts workforce needs for their business area
  • Ensuring templates are available for business areas to make the job easy, and to promote consistent data production in areas such as vacancies, absenteeism, capability gaps, knowledge continuity and diversity

3. Keeping reporting on the agenda

  • Conducting annual, state-wide audits to evaluate and report wider workforce data
  • Making data easy to understand by developing automations and dashboards to present to executives in a meaningful way, routinely educating them on the agency’s current state and alerting them to issues early
  • Maintaining a living and active document that logs the agreed actions, research directives and decisions from the workforce planning groups
  • Reviewing the plan formally on an annual basis, but regularly revising content as things change and progress

“It is important for workforce plans to be active documents that align with the organisation’s strategic direction and priorities.” Deputy Commissioner, FRNSW