Over the last 12 months, the UK’s justice sector has undergone enormous change, mobilising effective cross-sector collaboration and flexibilities at pace, to adapt and respond to unparalleled demand. The remarkable resilience and dedication of staff across policing, wider law enforcement and crime prevention to deliver services in the midst of such adversity is incredible but has been tested to the limits. As the workforce continues to face ongoing challenges due to the impact of COVID-19, as well as from pre-pandemic operating conditions, how can this resolve be strengthened and working-life improved to reduce the risk of burnout, both now and in the future?
Since 2010, Skills for Justice, the Sector Skills Council for the UK Justice and Community sectors and leading not-for-profit, has funded a national biennial research project assessing the current skills and competencies needs of the entire policing workforce. Launched this week, the ‘Developing a Resilient Workforce Survey’ aims to identify the critical development shortages at an individual, organisational and systemic level, to support the UK Government and policing leaders implement measures that will not only protect staff from pressures that pre-date the pandemic but, crucially, address the new challenges they will continue to face as a result.
Workforce resilience and wellbeing
“For over 10 years’ our research has helped shape the delivery of workforce initiatives and people strategies, supporting employers to make evidence-based decisions and to target effective resources in their efforts to improve the workplace,” says Jon Parry, Head of Research at Skills for Justice. “This year’s review focuses on improving workforce resilience and wellbeing, particularly in light of the immense trials we have all experienced in the last 12 months and will help sector leaders to better understand the complex skills issues that they will need to address, in order to equip the workforce to meet future challenges.”
This vital research looks to capture cross-sector skills gaps, the impact on learning due to COVID-19, ongoing training needs, flexible and remote working, equality, diversity, and inclusion at work, as well as the organisational and people development requirements to support an ever-increasing complex workforce. The findings will form a comprehensive report providing an invaluable overview of the current shape of the policing workforce nationwide.
“As the nation emerges from the pandemic there has never been a greater need to address challenges in policing workforce development,” says John Rogers, Chief Executive at Skills for Justice. “Workforce issues remain the biggest concern facing the sector and now is the time to ensure long-term, strategic plans are based on an accurate, evidence-based understanding of the needs of the workforce.”
Highlighting the importance of the upcoming autumn release of the independent ‘Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales‘, John says, “This welcome review will propose recommendations for implementing a national strategy to support workforce planning across England and Wales and our research can help bolster this proposed vision. If we are to build a service which is better adept to meeting the challenges of the 21st Century and vitally improve the safety of our communities, we must first improve the workplace for our policing people.”
Former Chief Executive Officer of the College of Policing and now associate at Skills for Justice, Mike Cunningham, has been working closely with Jon Parry and the team on a range of initiatives to support the future-proofing of policing. He says, “Research is a vital part of understanding the needs of the entire workforce and this national call for evidence from police officers and policing staff will help inform future programmes to support development of the service across the country.”
Much of the change brought about by COVID-19 was forced to happen overnight. That so many staff risked their personal mental and physical health is testimony to the commitment and dedication of the workforce. “Change is constant, and the inability to accept or adapt to it is inevitable when introducing new working practices,” says Jon Parry. “Personal resilience is a wonderful characteristic, but it should not be the default requirement.
“The ability to collaborate, cope with challenges, lead effectively, embrace technology, communicate, and interact well with others, are the main concerns we continue to see across the policing workforce,” explains Jon. “Participants in our previous research have told us that the impact these skills deficits have is vast, ranging from the creation of extra pressure on those fewer staff with the right skills, through to inhibiting motivation, increasing absenteeism, and leading to difficulties in meeting internal quality standards and external public expectations.”
John Rogers emphasises, “Having a police service that is able to look back at the changes that have already taken place over the last year or so, learn from them, and translate that learning into what it means practically for future workforce resilience, is key.”
Have your say
“Reflective and reflexive engagement and dialogue must underpin today’s resilience strategies in order to frame tomorrow’s workforce,” adds Jon. “By participating in this survey, employers and employees can play their part in informing decisive action for the sector, to both overcome the obstacles it faces in recovering after COVID-19 and shaping the role of the modern police service, and how it should evolve over the next 20 years.”
Encouraging staff to have their say, John says, “Creating a culture of workforce resilience is vital to shaping the future system. Basing long-term workforce strategies on the best available data will not only make the system more resilient and help it retain the incredible people it has but make it a more attractive place for others to join. Together, we can ensure our forces are both truly representative of the communities they service and have the skills the public requires.”
The next 20 years will continue to bring new layers of complexity, new challenges, and new opportunities for the sector. “Our police workforce needs the training and support which can better match this ever-increasing complexity,” says Jon. “If we can start preparing leaders for upcoming challenges today, then tomorrow’s workforce will be better equipped and more resilient to meet them.”
The survey will be live until 30 June 2021 and for every completed survey response, Skills for Justice are donating 10p to MenCap, the leading charity for people with a learning disability.