Forward looking

A forward-looking public service understands how the work of public servants is changing, and knows how to transform its workforce, to get the work done. It is a public service that can anticipate the workforce it will need, and take a strategic approach to workforce management, so that skilled workers are ready to be deployed at the moment they are needed.

The emergence of complex, multidimensional challenges linked to trends such as automation, demographic change or global emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, reinforces the need to develop forward-looking workforce strategies. In a fast-changing employment environment, with scarce skills and resources on one side and unpredictable future changes on the other, strategic workforce planning based on data, evidence and foresight has the potential to become a cornerstone of public employment policies.

Read on below to find out more about how the OECD and its members are working to develop forward-looking workforce strategies.

Key Issues

The OECD works with governments to ensure a forward-looking public service through coherent and robust workforce planning in the following ways:

  • Improving workforce data: Using data to inform workforce planning requires increasingly sophisticated people analytics, incorporating data from various sources. These may include administrative data, employee surveys, and labour market statistics, which can form a deeper understanding of workforce strengths, gaps, and trends.
  • Determining future workforce needs, based on factors such as changing skills needs, government transformation strategies and objectives, motivation and engagement of employees, numbers and expenditure (not just in terms of salary, but also hiring, development, retiring, etc).
  • Identifying and addressing current workforce gaps, based on a data-driven mapping of the current workforce.  Addressing skills gaps requires flexibility in the management of the workforce; a whole-of-government perspective on allocations across sectors and coordinated implementation with (e.g. digital) transformation exercises. It also requires effective monitoring, evaluation and accountability from the highest levels of (not just HR) management.
  • Planning for uncertainty. Workforce planning should not give a false sense of security over a future that is increasingly uncertain and difficult to predict. Rather governments can plan for a resilient workforce and build up better data to leverage in moments of crisis.  Planning for an uncertain future could include scenario planning to take into account various plausible futures; and identification/design of talent pools for surge capacity when needed, mobility tools to link internal supply to demand in emergency situations, and the identification of essential functions and jobs that can be done at a distance.

Principle 11 of the Recommendation on Public Service Leadership and Capability calls on governments to develop a long-term, strategic and systematic approach to people management based on evidence and inclusive planning that:


  • Is informed by evidence-based assessment of skills needed and skills available to meet current and future core business requirements, using HR and workforce data for strategic and predictive analytics, while taking all necessary steps to ensure data privacy;
  • Sets strategic direction and priorities with input from relevant stakeholders, in particular public servants and/or their representatives, and the management accountable for implementation;
  • Considers all relevant aspects of people management and ensures alignment with strategic planning processes of the government, including budget and performance management; and
  • Includes appropriate indicators to monitor progress, evaluates the impact of HR policies and processes, and informs decision-making.


The following additional principles of the Recommendation are particularly relevant and may be used as a guide by those wishing to develop leadership capability in the public service:     

Principle 4: Building a proactive and innovative public service that takes a long-term perspective in the design and implementation of policy and services.


Public service workforces across the OECD are facing similar challenges and trends, and much uncertainty. Taken together, these suggest a future of work in the public sector that will need to be more forward-looking – to identify the way the work will change, the skills and talents that will be needed and plans to get from a current to future state of readiness. It will need flexible workforce management to be able to access the skills it needs to meet fast emerging, often-unforeseen challenges. And it will need to provide fulfilling work experiences to attract, retain and motivate an increasingly diverse workforce.  Each of these themes are explored in the next pages. 



A forward-looking HRM strategy has to be data-informed. In this sense, a vast majority of OECD countries collects and centralises essential HRM data, related to demographic traits of their public workforce, and employment arrangements. However, a smaller number of countries strategically collect data on leave use, mobility, turnover and dismissal, limiting the capacity of these systems to adapt to the constantly evolving needs of the workforce.

Developed in 2016, the following index on the collection and availability of administrative HR data measures the existence of the following administrative data records at the central/ federal level: number of employees, level, function, age, gender, disabilities, other minority status, level of education, length of service, languages spoken, type of contract, union membership, part-time work, other flexible working arrangements, total sick days used, training days used, special leave used, mobility within the civil service, staff turnover, retirements, resignations and dismissals. 
The COVID-19 crisis profoundly tested the resilience public services, and therefore of human resource management. The most forward-looking countries had a low level of adaptation to overcome, while others had to implement, often overnight, a new way of working based on multiple new innovations to develop, test, and modify. This crisis forced digital transformation, and some of the solutions that emerged will remain after the crisis, potentially leading to more resilient public services.

Good practices

Belgium: In the Flemish Public Service, workshops around employee engagement surveys have been introduced. They aim notably at clarifying issues around the interpretation of the data, and the development of additional engagement analyses based on an online reporting tool. 

Canada: A Central Innovation Hub has been created in the Privy Council Office, focusing on innovative policy approaches and instruments to support innovation in government programmes and services through behavioural insights, data and design. 

Germany: The German Employment Agency designed a lifecycle oriented HRM policy, built around an intergenerational approach seeking to enhance workability of its staf. It also focuses on competencies, health, and engagement to promote lifelong learning and well-being in the workplace.

Netherlands: Directors of HR and Organisational Development of all Dutch ministries gathered to develop the HR Strategy 2020, a common vision for central public administrations. This vision structured from 2013 policy development in specific HR areas and topics.


Case studies

Australia: Strategic workforce planning in the Australian Public Service to prepare for current and future needs

The case study focusses on strategic workforce planning in the Australian Public Service (APS) to support organisations in assessing and preparing for current and future needs. The Australian Workforce Strategy ‘Delivering for tomorrow - APS Workforce Strategy 2025’ coupled with the APS Workforce Planning Centre of Excellence programme build a long-term strategic programme of work to strengthen workforce planning in APS agencies and shift it from an operational to a future-focused skill and capability based strategic activity.

France: Building Capacity to Lead the Digital Transformation: a new mind-set in the French civil service

This case study discusses how France is preparing its senior civil servants to support and steer digital technologies to create public value, namely in the context of France’s strategy for the future of public service, Administration Publique 2022. As the fast pace of digital transformation is placing new expectations on SCS, various French public organisations are piloting initiatives to strengthen SCS capacity to lead the digital transformation.

Korea: Data-driven Human Resource Management in Korea

Many of OECD countries have leveraged digital systems and improved digital capabilities in order to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and prepare for the future of work. The Korean government is one of the leading countries that has established and implemented strategic policies for digital HRM. The Korean Government’s standardized electronic HRM system supports government-wide personnel administration and personnel policy tasks of the Ministry of Personnel Management, by digitising the overall personnel administration from recruitment to retirement. Various data and statistics available in this system are used for personnel policy-making such as diversity management, placement of personnel in the right place and human resource development. (forthcoming)

Israel: Workforce mapping in the Israeli Civil Service to prepare for the Future of Work

The case study focuses on a pilot project on workforce mapping developed by the Israeli Civil Service Commission. The project developed a methodology to identify roles and functions across the civil service at risk of substantial change to due automation, digitalisation, and changing skills requirements. This enables line Ministries and agencies to understand where and how change may affect their workforce. They can then develop more targeted and evidence informed workforce management strategies.

  US: Anticipating future challenges for the workforce through the re-skilling toolkit of the US Office of Personnel Management

The case study focusses on building a forward-looking public sector in the US through the use of a re-skilling and up-skilling toolkit. Developed by the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the toolkit helps Federal agencies meet their objective of strategic workforce management and skills development in line with the President’s Management Agenda.

Further reading

A selection of recent reports is available through the OECD iLibrary, many of which provide more context and detail on a Forward-looking public service:





OECD (forthcoming), The Future of Work in the Public Service


OECD (2017), Skills for a High Performing Civil Service, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris.



Working papers


Nolan-Flecha, N. (2019), "Next generation diversity and inclusion policies in the public service: Ensuring public services reflect the societies they serve", OECD Working Papers on Public Governance, No. 34, OECD Publishing, Paris.



Public Governance Reviews


OECD (2017), Innovation Skills in the Public Sector: Building Capabilities in Chile, OECD Public Governance Reviews, OECD Publishing. Paris.