When it comes to human capital management, government agencies now face a wide range of challenges. These include retaining top talent -- cited as the overall No. 1 challenge among 16 percent of U.S. federal executives; driving employee engagement (15 percent); attracting new talent (14 percent); and building future leaders (13 percent), according to research from Accenture.

What's more, chief human capital officers (CHCOs) can't afford to drag their feet in responding to these needs. Not at a time when agency retirements are soaring – more than 138,000 workers left in the most recently reported fiscal year, up from just under 77,000 in 2010, according to the U. S. Office of Personnel Management. To replace them, HR will have to do a better job of recruiting Millennials, as these young professionals account for less than one-quarter of government employees, versus one-third in the private sector.

Given the many potential problem areas, CHCOs should adopt tools and strategies associated with workforce planning, an emerging, highly integrated, enterprise-wide approach to personnel oversight. Workforce planning is frequently defined as a continual process in which an organization’s "big picture" objectives are closely aligned with its talent management, elevating what used to be somewhat dismissed as "HR stuff" to a more strategic level.

Specifically, workforce planning tools and strategies will enable you to address the following critical functions:

Identifying talent shortfalls.

Through cloud-based workforce planning solutions that lend total visibility into all areas, you can see whether you have the people in place to perform required functions. This goes beyond a mere assessment of whether you have enough qualified personnel in, say, research and development. It’s about determining the precise competencies within different areas of R&D, to ensure all bases are covered. Software engineers and analysts both work in R&D, for example, but they don’t do the same thing. However, you

need

both to advance your agency’s missions.

Assessing skills gaps.

It’s one thing to be an excellent analyst or software engineer. It’s quite another to be a terrific communicator, collaborator and team contributor. Organizations today are recognizing that they simply cannot look to "fill in the blanks" in recruiting strictly based upon "hard skills" and/or position-specific experience. They also must take "soft skills" into account, so hard skills readily translate into the kind of team-driven outcomes that fulfill highly sought agency objectives. Again, through workforce planning solutions and approaches, you measure and inventory these qualities for every conceivable function. With this, you more easily "tag" employees with abundant soft skills for future leadership roles.

Anticipating retirements.

Through deep analysis of staff demographics, you get a clear sense of which agency areas are most likely to see the most retirees over the next one, three, five or even 10 years. You have to closely track this and match succession efforts accordingly. By identifying and slotting in advance both internal and external talent that can quickly step into these roles, you "fill" vacancies before they materialize.

Reducing the risk of workforce turnover.

Obviously, retirement isn’t the sole cause of all departures. Employees leave because they’re either unhappy or they perceive of better opportunities somewhere else. That’s why you must take advantage of workforce planning solutions and methods to measure engagement in every agency area. You evaluate which areas have the most engaged employees and which have the least and then incorporate best practices from the "haves" to elevate satisfaction levels among the "have nots."

Improving budget processes.

It’s difficult to overcome shortfalls in competencies and skills – while riding the wave of inevitable retirements – if you suddenly run out of the funding required to respond to all of this. Because workforce planning is every bit as much about the business side of an organization (as opposed to purely personnel matters), you proactively gauge whether you have sufficient budget to move forward with programs that support better recruitment, succession, engagement, training/development, etc. – so you don’t run out of money mid-year, forcing a temporary (or more permanent) program freeze.

Securing your "people data."

Because data and analytics play such an essential role in every aspect of workforce planning, you should acquire solutions that are fully secured from top to bottom. Let’s face it: If today’s headlines have taught us anything, it’s that it only takes one, devastating breach to either remove, damage or outright destroy everything you’ve accomplished. Through industry-proven cybersecurity products and practices, you can rest a little easier at night knowing that all human capital data is in a safe place.

Yes, the human capital challenges out there are wide-ranging and complex. They threaten to consume CHCOs, constantly pitting them in "no-win" situations in which they play "firemen and firewomen" by exhaustively reacting to vacancies, engagement plunges and skills deficits – it’s like sprinting on a treadmill and never being able to keep up the pace. Yet, by investing in workforce planning, these CHCOs and their teams obtain complete visibility into all aspects of talent management, detecting and eliminating pain points before they grow into crises – emerging as invaluable influencers of organization strategies, instead of mere processors of "HR stuff."

Joe Abusamra is vice president of Acendre's North America sector, focusing on Acendre's federal talent management, workforce planning and people analytics solutions.