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Successful Workforce Planning in the State of California

The State of California employs a vast and diverse workforce of 215,864 full and part-time employees that span 202 state departments, agencies and boards, excluding the California university and California state college systems. A current analysis of the state’s workforce has determined that 42 percent of these employees are age 50 or above with the average retirement at age 60. The majority of our workforce is eligible for retirement at age 55. In preparation for the large loss of the state’s workforce to impending retirements, the state’s “employer” representative, the California Department of Human Resources, developed a Statewide Workforce Planning Coordination Unit (SWPCU). The mission of the SWPCU is to build a quality sustainable workforce for the State of California. The unit will accomplish this mission by empowering and assisting departments to plan and implement effective workforce strategies for recruitment, retention and succession planning.

Workforce planning must receive top priority by the senior executives of all state departments in order to be successful. These executives have many critical departmental missions to oversee, from housing inmates, to maintaining roadways and emergency response. In order for executives to make workforce planning a priority, SWPCU must educate these executives about the global, national and statewide attention being given to workforce planning. For example, Canada and Australia have established national workforce planning initiatives. The United States General Accounting Office, one of the most successful civil service agencies in the country, has made workforce planning and human resource issues top priority. Nearly 50 million dollars of the state’s annual budget is allocated to personnel costs. Government is consistently shrinking and doing more with less staff. How can we afford to not make workforce planning a priority?

State departments, boards and agencies must adapt to the changing workforce by developing a solid workforce plan that acts as a practical tool as well as a guide. The SWPCU has identified major obstacles that hinder departments’ development of workforce plans. These obstacles include state department realignments, mergers and outdated strategic plans. To assist these departments, SWPCU has developed a survey and development tool. This tool requires the participation of branch and division chiefs in identifying and quantifying their workforce needs. Workforce planning coordinators will gather the workforce needs assessment tools completed by these division chiefs to build workforce plans that will address the department’s overall needs, one building block at a time.

The survey and development tool helps departments begin developing their workforce plans by first identifying their most critical functions at each division to develop into the department’s overall needs. A review of classifications currently performing these work functions is conducted in order to validate that these duties match the critical job functions. This is accomplished by reviewing the classification specifications and the duty statements and comparing these to the actual work being performed. Each position must have well defined job competencies to ensure that incumbents possess the level of knowledge, skills and abilities required to efficiently complete the critical work functions. The development tool provided to these departments will assist them in in addressing workforce misalignments and engage in workforce reshaping.

Each department should monitor their workforce data on a biannual basis. This is accomplished by capturing the number of positions established, vacancy rate, number of employees nearing retirement age and the recruitment efforts required to fill these vacancies. For example, if a state department has 15 established senior civil engineer positions, four of which are vacant and nine are eligible to retire in the next five years, the department should fill those remaining four positions as soon as possible. An analysis conducted by the SWPCU has found that these kind of highly technical classifications will be most affected by retirements. These classifications have significant education and skill level requirements and involve more recruitment effort. To assist state departments with this task, SWPU has developed classification watch lists to be shared with the state departments so they can adequately monitor their highly vulnerable classifications.

Departments must concentrate efforts on the retention of their staff. An appropriate first step in implementing effective retention strategies is to identify why staff are leaving, if not for retirement. Currently, SWPCU is developing a new confidential exit survey to assist all state departments in identifying retention issues. Although many departments have supervisors do formal exit interviews, employees may feel more comfortable providing all of their reasons for leaving in an anonymous environment. Using an external confidential survey will provide valuable insight for departments that may not be attained otherwise. Utilizing the information gained through the confidential exit survey, departments can develop and implement effective retention strategies. According to SWPU, retention strategies such as the following must be detailed in the departments workforce plans: certificates of appreciation, challenging work opportunities, frequent one-on-ones, flexible work schedules and professional development opportunities.

In order to keep up with the diverse labor needs of California, departments must recruit the most talented, highly skilled personnel available. It is up to state supervisors and managers to find the right person, with the right set of skills for each position. The SWPCU suggests they use screening criteria specific to the needs of the position and use competency based interviewing techniques for hiring. Several training classes are currently available to state supervisors and managers to learn these hiring techniques. Managers who follow these techniques have had great success in filling their positions with talented personnel.

All departments have a responsibility to market the State of California as an employer of choice. Although some employees in private sector may be paid a higher salary than state civil service employees, the salaries combined with employee benefits make state civil service extremely competitive. State employees also receive the unique benefit of stability which is more important than ever in these tough economic times. In recent years, highly successful businesses have had to close their doors leaving their loyal experienced employees looking for a new career. State of California employees have a variety of career paths for professional growth opportunities. State employees have the opportunity to change into new career fields without losing their state civil service tenure. The career diversity offered to state employees makes them more well-rounded, knowledgeable and highly marketable. In addition to competitive salaries, benefits, and diverse work and training opportunities, state employees also receive the intrinsic reward of knowing they make a difference in the daily lives of fellow Californians. The work we do matters.

The workforce needs and challenges facing the State of California are vast. However, with the assistance of all state departments, SWPCU is committed to meeting California’s needs for continued public service. Through the use of user-friendly workforce planning tools, we will assist state departments in developing solid workforce plans that are practical and valuable in meeting these workforce challenges. Together we make the difference to the overall success of our state.


Author: Stacie Abbott is the Statewide Workforce Planning Coordinator for California Department of Human Resources.


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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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