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Sandra Beale

SJ Beale HR Consult Ltd


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Blog: Workforce planning – The answer to train operators’ prayers?


There have been ongoing announcements lately from London Midland trains about substantial cancellations of its train services on the Northampton to Birmingham line.  

This is due to a lack of qualified drivers caused by several factors. It takes on average twelve months to train a driver but driver retention is poor due to crippling shifts. 
Despite the attractive salary, high train driver attrition demonstrates that money is not always a motivator. The planned need to look at staff rotas may help the problem in the short term, however, a longer term solution needs to be found in order to ensure the problem does not occur in the future.
The strategic initiative of workforce planning would allow the train company to plan well into the future, five years ahead at least. Future demand and supply of staff is key.
Planning will help to identify any shortfalls so that staffing gaps can be plugged, therefore, workforce planning provides the right people at the right time with the right skills.
Workforce planning can include the implementation of succession planning, flexible working, skills audits, talent management, multi-skilling and role design to name a few processes. Ideally it should run alongside development of the long-term business plan, which most forward-thinking companies undertake.  
Within the plan, data needs to be organised for recruitment (numbers and levels), training, learning and development, organisation structure and deployment. Organisational strategy can be an internal driver. However external drivers can be customer and stakeholder expectations and changes in market forces to name but two. 
In the long-term, the government has plans to develop the rail service to meet increasing customer demands, so train companies need to rise to the challenge with their workforce planning. The implementation of workforce planning need consensus from all key stakeholders with key responsibilities outlined.  
Managers need to be actively supported as they contribute to the process. Regular reviews and amendments are required. The process should be a continuous cycle to ensure future people needs are met.
Sandra Beale is director of HR consultancy, SJ Beale HR Consult.

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