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More companies need to ditch thinking about head count and focus on skills count, says recruitment specialist Blue Eskimo

Learning & development recruitment company Blue Eskimo says that companies waste time and money focusing on empty chairs rather than the skills which they need.

Although talent management and workforce planning are recognised contributors to business success, there are still too few companies which think in this way, says learning & development recruitment specialist Blue Eskimo in a recently published article, Workforce planning - yes, you can plan your workforce.

"Successful talent management is the preserve of a select number of typically very large organisations," says Nick Bate, director at Blue Eskimo. "These companies were addressing talent management issues a decade ago - but the thinking hasn't filtered down to the larger SMEs or smaller enterprises. Not embracing workforce management is costing them money."

A key issue is that many organisations still recruit reactively - often only thinking about skills when someone leaves. Workforce planning encourages organisations to plan ahead - matching the workforce's skills more precisely to the long-term strategy of the business. The benefits are real. According to research by The Hackett Group, companies can boost earnings by nearly 15% by improving their talent management function. "In these tough times, a 15% uplift is a radical improvement not to be sniffed at," says Bate.

Despite the benefits, many companies aren't yet adopting workforce planning; according to research by Bersin & Associates, 56% of companies have no talent planning and 24% of companies describe their talent planning as 'adequate' - just 20% describe it as 'robust'.

Workforce planning allows organisations to more proactively address their skills challenges, such as when the business needs to change (perhaps because the market changes around them, so a shift in skills needed), gaps in the leadership pipeline and employee retention.

"More organisations need to learn from those who are doing this well," says Bate. "Sometimes it doesn't even need a complex system or expensive strategy - just some forward planning and some robust processes. Even doing a little planning - thinking about the skills needed for the next year, what happens if key people leave and so on - can go a long way. It can save money on recruitment, it can add money to the bottom line, it can save a lot of time."

"During a tough economic climate," concludes Bate, "everyone's busy, very busy. It's easy to do things in the way that they've always been done - even if there's something available that could create significant benefits. But this is something that some companies are doing really well - others need to follow."

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