Workforce Planning in a Crisis

As efforts continue to control the pandemic, businesses across the nation continue to feel the impact of the COVID-19. Millions of small businesses are at risk of closing after stay-at-home orders shut down nonessential businesses. In a survey conducted by SHRM between March 12 and March 18, more than half of small businesses expected revenue losses of 10 percent to 30 percent. This revenue drop will force many businesses to plan for furloughs and layoffs. If you’ve been tasked with planning for these difficult decisions, we recommend you utilize a skills-based workforce plan. 

What is skills-based workforce planning?

More traditional workforce planning focuses broadly on the types of positions and number of staff an organization needs to accomplish different projects. This type of surface-level planning can cause an organization to get tunnel vision about their employees’ positions in the company and limits the possibilities of how employees can move within the organization.

A skills-based workforce plan, on the other hand, allows organizations to evaluate the skills needed for its success and growth as it adapts to the economy; Which allows businesses to prioritize employees’ continuous growth within the organization and to think about how workers can transition their skills from one position to another. This type of critical thinking is crucial during a crisis, as it helps organizations make difficult decisions: What employees will be retrained? What skills do these workers need to learn? How will the organization prioritize who they’ll hire once the business reopens?   

Benefits of a skills-based workforce plan

A skills-based workforce plan is flexible and responsive to change, it responds to whatever happens in the market and prepares different ways of tackling the crisis. By using this type of planning we are creating a growth mindset across the organization, and maybe most importantly:

Outside hires take three years to perform as well as internal hires in the same job.

Which means that even as organizations deal with the realities of revenue loss and inability to pay payroll, they should still strive to retain their staff as much as possible, because this will help reduce the cost of reopening the business.

How to create a skills-based workforce plan for your business

Retroactive Thinking 

Start by understanding what your businesses looked like before the (COVID-19) crisis. What were your team members’ skills sets before the crisis? This will allow you to think about how those need to change. It will also help you, prioritize who you might have to let go,  what training needs to happen, and what positions you’ll need to hire based on what you were doing before, and what you’ll need to do post-COVID.

Need help thinking of what skillsets your workers had pre-COVID and what skills they will need post-COVID? This tool can help.

During the Crisis:

Identify the areas where your business has been hit the hardest by the crisis. Are there skills that are needed now, that maybe weren't as important before?  What is your revenue and how does that affect your staffing budget? This assessment will allow you to make layoff decisions based on your budget and the skills that are least important during the crisis. 


For this step, you will need to identify areas of opportunity to retain some revenue and business. For example, you're a restaurant that can no longer have people dine-in, but you have an opportunity to allow people to order to-go or deliver meals to your customers.

Evaluate the skills needed to adapt your company to the crisis. Let's continue using the example above if you’re this restaurant, you may need employees with more digital skills because now you will need to monitor online orders, or maybe you need to create a profile for a delivery app.

Thinking of the skills you need and comparing them to the skills in your business pre-COVID will help give you insights into what training will be necessary for your new business plans. This planning will help you think of current employees who may have these skills or can be trained to perform these new roles.


As states begin to reopen their economy, different businesses will have new demands they will need to follow. For example, social distancing measures and new cleaning practices that will need to be followed. So, there will be a shift in a lot of the skills that will be needed once you reopen, and thinking about this new way of operating your business will be critical to your success as a business, as well as the safety of your employees and customers.

The Skillful Talent Series offers employers training on how to attract, evaluate, hire, onboard, and retain employees. Come learn how skills-based practices can help you obtain the right talent you need to help you get through these difficult times by visiting: