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Three focus areas for creating the police workforce of the future

We recently conducted a survey of policing professionals across six countries and asked them why they’d chosen policing as a career.

Guess what? Around three-quarters said they’d joined because it was a stable and secure profession—effectively a ‘job for life’.

How people’s priorities have changed. Ask today’s upcoming generation what qualities they’re seeking in a job, and the opportunity to stay in it for life won’t top the list. Nowhere near. Instead, they’re more likely to mention things like doing meaningful work that has a positive impact on society.

Adapting to such changes in the labour market is one of three key strategic issues that police leaders will need to tackle in creating the policing workforce of the future.

The second is how to tap into a wider ecosystem of resources from outside the policing workforce. And the third is how to better enable their current people to use new tools. Crucially, all three issues can only be tackled in an effective, joined-up way within the context of a strategic workforce planning capability.

So, what does each issue involve? First, the changing labour market. Fact is, today’s new workforce wants different things in terms of what they do and how and where they do it. As well as wanting their work to be meaningful and socially beneficial, they also want an engaging and flexible employee experience, and to be able to apply their digital skills.

The appeal of meaningful work will become even more important in recruitment terms, as changes to police pensions and conditions reduce the prospects of a ‘job for life’. And with the gig economy projected to include 30% of the UK’s overall workforce by 2020, there’ll be a shift towards more flexible, often short-term jobs.

The result? Police forces will have to access wider talent pools that offer agile, fast support either to fill specialist skill gaps—such as cyber—or cover peaks in demand. Our survey suggests today’s police officers are ready for this: over 70% foresee the use of freelancers for project-based work and 65% for specialist work.

The second issue is tapping into the wider ecosystem. As well as recruiting their next generation in more flexible ways, police forces will also need to keep working fluidly with their partners in both the public and private sectors, plus voluntary and academic organisations. While great strides have been made, these partnerships need to evolve to become an everyday part of the policing workforce – an easily-accessible ecosystem of flexible, trusted partners.

However, this raises two key questions. The first is how to get the existing workforce to trust these new resources—something that will take time, transparency and experience. The second is how to manage this new ecosystem, ensuring it offers the right people, skills and availability. Fortunately, workforce platforms like Pivigo and Workmarket offer a ready-made solution.

The third issue is better enabling the existing workforce. This means giving the workforce access to new skills and capabilities and supporting them through a period of tremendous change. While the future policing workforce will require a blend of digital and interpersonal skills, creating challenges in recruitment, the biggest test may be empowering current employees.

Again, our research provides some comfort. Over 80% of current policing professionals believe it’s critical to retain valued employees and keep experience and expertise from ‘time in the job’. And more positively, over two-thirds want to embrace new skills—suggesting they’re ready to engage and adapt, provided they receive the necessary training.

To be effective, this training needs to be ongoing rather than one-off, and shouldn’t be limited to digital skills. As more tasks are automated, there’ll be a premium on the inherently human skills that machines can’t replicate. There’ll also need to be a balance between protecting the human skills and experiences at the heart of policing and providing the more flexible working and learning opportunities demanded by the adaptive workforce.

Those are the three key focus areas for police leaders as the next generation enters the workforce. And—as I mentioned earlier—addressing all three, while keeping pace with the wider environment, will require Workforce Planning to become a strategic imperative, with a voice and capability at the heart of the organisation.

What will this mean? Well, just as we’re seeing Chief Technology/Digital Officers elevated to board level in other industries, I think we’ll see Workforce Planning emerge as a mission-critical capability in policing. One that will be enabled by evidence-based insights into changing demands; will be ongoing and enduring rather than a yearly process; and will have the authority to move and change resources.

That’s the future for the police workforce. Let’s get planning.

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