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Workforce Forecasting | The Complete Guide

Being able to predict the future may sound out of this world. However, in HR and strategic planning, predicting the future goes by the name of workforce forecasting. Workforce forecasting anticipates future demand by combining historical data with predictive analytics.

If that sounds cool to you, then please read on. This guide will dive deep into what workforce forecasting is and the workforce forecasting techniques you should know.

What is Workforce Forecasting?

At its core, workforce forecasting predicts the number of employees required to meet future business needs. It’s about determining how many hands are needed on deck, the specific skill sets available and the capabilities that will be crucial for service delivery.

There are several workforce forecasting models and techniques at play here:

  • Historical Data Analysis: History often repeats itself. Patterns and trends emerge by examining your company’s past turnover rate and workforce data. This is your starting point, revealing how your operations have grown and changed over the years.
  • Future Demand Estimation: Looking at projected business growth, upcoming projects, and market trends, you will see which resources will be in demand in the coming weeks, months or years.
  • Skills Gap Analysis: Identify skills gaps by comparing current workforce capabilities with future demand. This establishes your workforce compositions and where skills shortages exist in a particular team.

Increasingly, workforce scheduling is integrating machine learning and AI. These technologies are helping to enhance the accuracy of predictions, making the workforce planning process more accessible and automated.

Using techniques like these, you can make informed decisions about hiring, training, and staff retention. Moreover, it ties into the broader spectrum of strategic workforce planning. The goal? Ensure your company has the right number of employees with the right skills at the right time.

Workforce Forecasting Definition

Workforce forecasting is a systematic process to predict future staffing requirements based on present and anticipated demand. It’s like a weather forecast for your business operations. It provides a glimpse of your future operations based on real time data. This can help you to:

a. Align Staff with Demand:

By accurately forecasting the number of employees required in different roles and at different times, you can reduce under or over-staffing scenarios, optimising operations.

b. Budget Effectively

Understanding future staffing requirements helps in budget allocation, ensuring funds are appropriately channelled towards recruitment, training, and other HR initiatives.

c. Stay Competitive

In fast-evolving industries, having the right talent at the right time can be the difference between leading the market or playing catch-up.

d. Reduce Employee Turnover

By anticipating workforce requirements, businesses can make informed decisions about training, promotions, and career development, leading to higher employee satisfaction and reduced turnover.

Why is Workforce Forecasting Neccessary?

The need for effective workforce forecasting is more than just theoretical; real-world data paints a compelling picture. In fact, results from a recent survey by the World Economic Forum revealed that nearly 40% of companies admit to only having a basic understanding or capability for workforce forecasting, often relying on outdated tools or gut feelings.

This lack of effective workforce forecasting can lead to:

a. High Costs of Misalignment

The implications of not forecasting effectively can be severe. Research indicates that companies which do not align their workforce with demand can see a drop in operational efficiency by up to 12%.

b. Turnover Troubles

Businesses that fail to forecast their staffing needs often face higher turnover rates, with studies showing an increase of up to 15% in employee turnover compared to businesses that use robust forecasting techniques.

c. Missed Opportunities

Without adequate forecasting, 25% of companies believe they’ve missed significant market opportunities due to lacking the required talent when required.

Understanding and applying workforce forecasting is pivotal for businesses aiming for longevity and success. Failing to harness its power can lead to missed opportunities, increased costs, and inefficient human resource management. You could say it is more than just a buzzword…

The Core Components of Workforce Forecasting

Demand Planning

What is it? At the heart of workforce forecasting lies demand planning. This is the process of assessing the future needs of your business, be it in terms of the number of employees, specific skill sets, or even the roles that will need to be filled. Think of it as the blueprint detailing the company’s expectations regarding the workforce in line with its business objectives. Not only does it help in aligning hiring strategies, but it also aids in financial planning, ensuring that resources are well-utilised.

Read More: What is Demand Planning and Is It Important?

Real-world Implications: With rapid technological advancements, new roles and specialities emerge regularly. For instance, the rise of artificial intelligence has spiked the demand for machine learning experts. Similarly, the boom in virtual reality tech has led to an increased need for VR and AR developers. Demand planning allows businesses to stay ahead of such tech trends, ensuring they are poised to hire or train the necessary talent to meet these evolving needs.

Historical Data Analysis

Predicting Future Workforce Needs: Past data holds the key to your future operations. By examining historical workforce data, patterns emerge. These patterns reveal how staff requirements have fluctuated over seasons, years, or even economic cycles. This analysis helps businesses forecast more accurately based on objective, tangible trends.

Real-life Scenario: Consider a retail giant like Amazon. By analysing their past hiring trends during holiday seasons, they can anticipate the surge in demand and thus prepare by hiring seasonal staff in advance. This ensures seamless operations during peak times and maximises customer satisfaction.

Internal Supply Analysis

Examining the Current Workforce: It’s vital to take a comprehensive look inward before looking outward. Internal supply analysis is about understanding the current workforce’s strengths, capabilities, and potential growth. Businesses can make informed decisions about training, promotions, or role shifts by evaluating existing skill sets, performance metrics, and even employee aspirations.

Benefits of Internal Supply Analysis: The benefits are twofold. First, companies can save substantially on hiring external candidates by recognising and nurturing internal talent. Second, this proactive approach boosts employee morale and retention, as they feel valued and see clear growth paths within the organisation.

Gap Analysis and Action Planning

Understanding Current Talent and Future Needs: After determining the future demand and evaluating the existing workforce’s capabilities, the next step is identifying the discrepancies or “gaps.” This analysis highlights where the company might fall short in meeting its future workforce requirements.

The Benefits of Workforce Forecasting

Linking to Strategic Planning

Workforce forecasting is not an isolated process; it’s an integral cog in the wheel of strategic planning. It’s about ensuring the organisation has the right talent in the right places to achieve its long-term business objectives. For instance, if a company’s strategic plan involves expanding into new markets in the next three years, workforce forecasting helps determine the type and number of employees needed to support this growth.

Enhancing Talent Retention and Development

Forecasting goes beyond just hiring. It also includes developing and retaining the talent you already have. When employees see that their organisation is planning for the future – and they’re a part of that future – it boosts morale and job satisfaction. This leads to lower turnover rates and more in-house expertise being cultivated over time.

Adaptability in a Dynamic Market

In the 2020s, market conditions, technologies, and consumer preferences change rapidly. Companies that can adapt swiftly to these shifts gain a competitive edge. Workforce forecasting aids in this adaptability. By anticipating future talent needs, businesses can quickly pivot, ensuring they’re always ahead in the market.

Efficient Deployment of Workforce

Knowing where your workforce demands will spike or dip means organisations can allocate resources more efficiently. This avoids the costs and disruptions of last-minute hiring or having an overstaffed department.

Popular Techniques in Workforce Forecasting

The Delphi Technique

This iterative consensus-building method involves seeking opinions from a panel of experts. After multiple rounds of feedback and adjustments, the idea is to reach a consensus forecast. The Delphi methodology is beneficial when decisions need to be made without complete historical data.

Managerial Analysis

Sometimes, there’s no substitute for hands-on expertise. Organisational analysis leverages senior leaders' or managers' experience and judgment in predicting workforce needs. It combines qualitative insights with available data to craft a well-informed forecast.

Advanced Quantitative Techniques

As workforce forecasting becomes more sophisticated, many organisations use statistical methods for more accurate predictions. Techniques such as regression analysis or time series forecasting use past data to derive patterns, ensuring the forecast is as precise as possible.

Workload Analysis

Here, the focus is on the tasks and roles within the organisation. By assessing how many people are required to fulfil certain functions or complete specific tasks, workload analysis helps determine staffing requirements. This method benefits departments with quantifiable tasks, like manufacturing or customer service.

Historical Analysis

As mentioned earlier, the past often provides clues for the future. Historical analysis reviews past workforce patterns to predict future needs. For example, if a company has seen a 5% increase in staff needs every year for the past decade, this trend can be a basis for future forecasts.

Steps to Implementing Workforce Forecasting

Step One: Defining a Business Strategy

Before diving into workforce forecasting, it’s vital to have a clear understanding of the business’s objectives and goals. Whether it’s market expansion, product diversification, or increasing market share, a defined strategy is the foundation for your forecasting efforts.

Step Two: Gathering Relevant Data

Collect past and present data on employee turnover, seasonal fluctuations, hiring rates, and other relevant workforce metrics. This data will serve as the basis for your forecasting models.

Step Three: Select a Forecasting Technique:

Depending on the nature of your business, available data, and specific goals, choose a forecasting method that aligns best. This could be workload analysis, historical analysis, or any techniques discussed in the previous section.

Step Four: Build Your Forecasting Model

With your chosen technique, construct a model that projects future workforce requirements. This might involve using software tools, statistical analyses, or seeking expert opinions.

Step Five: Incorporate Internal and External Variables

Consider variables like potential market changes, economic factors, technological advancements, and company-specific variables such as new product launches or expansions.

Step Six: Develop an Action Plan

Based on your forecasts, devise a concrete plan. This might involve ramping up hiring in specific departments, training existing employees for upcoming roles, or reallocating resources.

Step Seven: Implementation

Put your action plan into motion. This step engages the HR department and team leaders, managers, and even C-suite executives to ensure alignment across the board.

Step Eight: Tracking Progress & Auditing

As with any predictive model, monitoring outcomes and adjusting accordingly is essential. Refine your models and strategies if you see disparities between your forecasts and actual needs. This is a process that can be automated. Check out our article below for more.

Beyond these steps, understanding the technology driving this forward is key. Check out this article to learn more about the technology and software putting these steps and the techniques outlined earlier into practice: Automated Workforce Scheduling

Best Practices in Workforce Forecasting

Setting KPIs: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measure the success and efficiency of your forecasting. Common KPIs in workforce forecasting include:

  • Accuracy percentage (how close forecasts are to actual outcomes).
  • Time-to-fill for job positions.
  • Employee turnover rates.


Effective forecasting isn’t a siloed process. Engaging multiple stakeholders, from department heads to team leads and even frontline employees, can provide diverse insights, refining the forecasting model.

Regular Evaluation

Continually assess your predictions against actual outcomes. This iterative evaluation points out discrepancies and helps refine future forecasts.

Integrate with Talent Management

Align your forecasting efforts with broader HR initiatives. For instance, if your forecast indicates a need for more software developers next year, your talent management strategy might focus on training and upskilling current employees or recruiting top-tier talent.

Data Utilisation

Data is the backbone of forecasting. Utilising big data, machine learning, and analytics can significantly enhance the accuracy of your forecasts. Ensure that your data sources are credible, and use sophisticated tools to derive actionable insights.

Incorporating these steps and best practices ensures a robust workforce forecasting model that aligns with business objectives and is poised for future challenges. Remember, forecasting isn’t a one-time task but an ongoing process that requires attention, refinement, and collaboration.

Closing Thoughts

For businesses, big or small, investing time and resources into refining their forecasting techniques can yield considerable dividends. As the old saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Businesses like yours can reduce overheads and efficiently meet their strategic goals through effective forecasting. If you haven’t already, it’s time to prioritise workforce forecasting in your strategic plans.

Edward Bell

Edward Bell, Totalmobile's Content Strategist, shapes and delivers compelling content spotlighting their unique SaaS solutions. With 6+ years in MarComs, his journey spans diverse marketing roles, driven by tech passion. Edward fuels Totalmobile's mission, educating and advocating for impactful solutions across sectors, ensuring ROI for customers.