Dealing with an ageing policing population
What are your force plans to deal with an increase in officers who will be serving till they are 60(+)? Do they have any?
With the best will in the world, short the exceptional officers that we all know whom are able to maintain a level of fitness that allows them to perform to a level that make us envious, we probably aren’t looking to crew a high percentage of response cars with 58 year old cops.
So its time to plan in detail now. My own force? I know for the last couple of years we’ve talked about the need to plan. The issue of an ageing workforce has come up a number of times in futures style projects and its been generally acknowledged that its something we need to deal with. I worked on one of these projects myself a couple of years back with a few great colleagues (whom I would like to acknowledge here as we kicked around ideas like this for a number of months).
I am not aware of any dedicated work on it yet in Police Scotland, though expect again the issue will make an appearance in Policing 2026, our next ten year strategy. It’s an area of work I’d like to see progressed as a priority, both to give cops the necessary confidence that they can serve till they are 60+ and won’t be abandoned as well as give the force surety that the scale of the problem will not adversely affect service delivery.
If we are honest we can all probably agree that policing has never been particularly good at modelling any aspect of our work. Its only in the last number of years we have understood the need to model demand, many forces are just starting out on modelling workforce progression needs, and so it is with an ageing population. Though given that the data is all accessible it shouldn’t be difficult to model the scale and pace of workforce ageing. There are already many industry models to follow and a wealth of academic research on the subject. In our case it would make a great area of work to commission through the Scottish Institute of Policing Research in conjunction with ourselves to get high confidence results. Once we have a clear idea of the scope its time to work out what we do with all of these ageing but willing cops!
Matching Ability to Capability
If you google workforce modelling you’ll find a multitude of possible policy options to deal with ageing workforce populations which are worth looking at to come up with an optimum model. For policing there are some complexities that need not be insurmountable with regards to the varying physical requirements of work we undertake. I hasten to add at this time and individual’s suitability for work within policing cannot be pigeonholed by age alone. It’s about matching the ability of the individual to the capability required to be delivered.
One possible method is an extension of a program that one of our legacy forces (Lothian and Borders) had commenced prior to merger. The force had mapped all of its posts against a scale of physicality and graded them accordingly. For instance being a Tactical Firearms Unit Officer, ARV Officer of Public Order Officer may be graded as an A+ post. Response Officers may be A posts. Courts Officers may be B posts, while jobs in Ops Planning may be graded C or D. You get the idea.
Interesting enough the above may be a useful exercise to identify (and ring-fence) posts that are suitable for temporarily or permanently medically restricted staff should that be a policy which a force wishes to pursue.
Once an exercise like this is completed you get a clear idea of your capacity to absorb your ageing workforce and can progress to policy decisions with regards to its management.
Armed with your workforce modelling and a detailed understanding as to what ability the force has to manage the projections, policy decisions can now be taken to develop an Ageing Workforce Strategy (perhaps ‘Late Career Stage’ is a nicer term than ‘Ageing!).
Consideration will need to be given to aspects of the following:
- What type and number of graded posts will be reserved for late career stage officers?
- What is the entry criteria?
- What do you do with graded Late Career Stage posts that are unfilled?
- Is there capacity to extend the same policy type to injured or disabled officers and staff?
- What are the transition policies for persons already in the posts identified as late career stage?
Time is not on our side
Well, time is not on any of our sides! I will admit to having a vested interest being on the wrong side of 40! Though from an organisational point of view the longer we wait the less time we give ourselves to prepare for what is an inevitable challenge. I know policing sometimes can be guilty of dealing with the ‘closest crocodile to the boat’ but we owe it to our workforce and to the communities we serve to get out in front of this entirely predictable issue with a workable and effective policy.
So what are your ideas? How can we tackle this issue? What is your force presently doing? My idea is pretty simplistic (and I know I have explained it as such). Greater minds than mine will generate better ideas but whatever we do it’d be pleasing to see it done before I get (more) grey hair…..