Reshaping the police workforce – 7 Workforce Challenges

Policing has recently faced significant change when it comes to their workforce – officer numbers are up as a result of Uplift, and enabling functions are having to adjust the way they work to support this growth. Leapwise has been working with Human Resource (HR) professionals in the Police Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) Forum to look ahead at workforce challenges and priorities and align leaders on necessary changes.  While every force faces its own unique set of challenges (and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution), these HR professionals acknowledged seven major areas/ challenges they are currently facing and require leadership attention through 2024.

7 Workforce Challenges

1. Uplift is changing the composition of the workforce and drawing greater attention to the retention challenge.

Forces must maintain officer numbers or face significant financial penalties, which means that most are seeking to make savings from staff functions and contracted spend. One perverse consequence is so-called ‘reverse civilianisation’: the NAO noted that this was incentivising forces “to replace cheaper staff – who often have specialist skills – with more expensive warranted officers”.   Maintaining Uplift officer numbers is also rightly reinforcing efforts on retention. There is no room for complacency: attrition is always highest in the early years of police service, and last year’s mid-service resignations (at 4,575) exceeded end of service exits for the first time ever.  Reducing early and mid-service resignations starts as early as onboarding, and the primary reason cited for leaving is a lack of management and organisational support which highlights the importance of effective leadership. 

2. Equipping front line leaders to perform in role has never been more important. 

In the short term, new officers can be a drain on the productivity of more senior colleagues. Training abstractions are complex to manage in terms of providing a joined-up service to the public and need careful handling to maintain operational effectiveness.  The ‘young in service’ workforce that Uplift has created is well documented, but the Police Remuneration Review Body’s observation that some officers became supervising sergeants after only two years of service should be of equal concern. Clear and consistent articulation of expectations of these first line leaders is necessary. 

3. Robust workforce data is disparate but priceless. 

Understanding the interconnected nature of different data sets (e.g., on wellbeing, sickness absence, vetting, learning and development, protected characteristics, motivation, and retention) will help forces develop strategic workforce plans, based on considerations of effective capacity and capability.  The data sets (many of which were developed through the Uplift Programme) are also vital at a national level to inform national strategies (such as Oscar Kilo and implementing the Police Covenant), as well as pay interventions.  

4. Prevention and demand management are increasingly essential.

While demand on policing is high, forces are mobilising to better manage demand in a range of ways. This includes ensuring demands that are better dealt with by other agencies are dealt with accordingly, such as the Right Care Right Person initiative pioneered by Humberside Police. It includes effective ‘channel shift’ to ensure that emergency response is reserved for urgent issues. But it also includes effective crime prevention, with forces such as Hertfordshire and Merseyside basing their strategies and plans increasingly around effort to prevent crime and harm. There is growing evidence on ‘What Works’, and better capture of promising initiatives from initiatives such as the new College of Policing Practice Bank and the Open University’s Centre for Policing Research and Learning. 

5. ‘Hindrance’ stressors and inefficiencies are still very prevalent.

Public-facing operational prevention initiatives should be matched by a relentless focus on driving out inefficiency and reducing bureaucracy.  Efficiency and time gains can both allow additional time for frontline officers to get the job right first time and relieve known hindrance stressors (such as cumbersome and bureaucratic internal processes requiring multiple signoffs). This should be a pan organisational effort, looking across core processes that touch multiple functions, rather than reviewing department by department.  

6. Significant tension exists between transformative change and savings requirements.

The most significant issue highlighted for HR leads is balancing the need to undertake long-term, large-scale organisational change, while at the same time deliver rapid savings and efficiencies. HR and other enabling functions need to harness some of the benefits of technology such as automation and AI to operate more efficiently and sustain effectiveness. Taking an ‘invest to save’ approach that focuses on strengthening these modern workplace capabilities to allow for future efficiency savings may provide an alternative to short term cuts that impact service delivery.  

7. Vetting rightly has an increased focus but remains a bottleneck.

Vetting (and re-vetting) remain significant issues for forces as they maintain their focus on legitimacy.  Speed of processing has clear implications for recruitment (which can be assisted by automation), but managed workforce data and role-based vetting are equally critical for the existing workforce.  HR leaders recognised the clear potential for regional and national service delivery of this function to deliver economies of scale and robust processes and delivery. 

Although a lot of these challenges identified are not new, HR professionals in policing highlighted a new sense of urgency around these – change is necessary to ensure this workforce can continue to serve the public and keep communities safe. 

Do these challenges resonate? Get in touch to learn more about how Leapwise can help your leadership team focus on solving these critical workforce challenges.   

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