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Jun 1, 201709:00 AMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Wayne Gretzky and the workforce

“Skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” — Wayne Gretzky

I love the Stanley Cup playoffs! It’s the time of year when the NHL raises its intensity and almost every game comes down to a few key plays — and often which team has a stronger will to win. Watching the games got me thinking about Wayne Gretzky and two of the most overused quotes in business presentation history.

Gretzky’s quotes apply to the workforce dilemma that faces Wisconsin. We can decide to skate to the puck, or where it will be. Most of our workforce focus remains on addressing the present skills gap. Meanwhile, demographic trends are changing that skills gap into a body gap. The body gap requires different solutions, in different places, and at different times. It requires skating to where the puck will be, not where it is.

Wisconsin does a terrific job addressing the skills gap. Our resources, engagement, and approaches rival anyone in the country. These skills solutions solve current staffing issues under current conditions. Approaching the body gap with skills solutions puts us behind the play in growing our economy in the face of stagnant workforce numbers.

The body gap requires different and more complicated approaches — built on the foundation the skills solutions create. Organizations must integrate the three Ts to create a fourth: transformation. Successful teams will integrate talent, technology, and techniques in ways that transform their operations and their markets. Traditionally, we silo these elements and address current issues. That approach still leaves us behind the play. (Where was that puck again?)

Skating to where the puck will be requires us to reimagine where our companies and markets will be in the future. Yes, I know, people have been saying this for decades and still the old solutions worked pretty well. Those days are coming to a close as new technology and accelerating change opens entirely new possibilities. Technology did this before — think about the printing press, steam engine, or assembly line. Now, the speed and breadth of change mean that for the first time in history, broad swaths of manufacturing could be disrupted within just a few years. It’s critical to identify the key trends affecting your business and then act on those trends!

Effective actions require new skills, as well. A whole new class of jobs will emerge where technology interfaces with humans. Thomas Friedman calls these “STEMpathy” jobs. For example, IBM’s Watson engages in diagnosing cancer and suggesting treatment approaches. Still, who wants to interact with a computer during a life-and-death situation? Wouldn’t the situation be better with a trained expert who interprets the data and discusses it in a clear and understanding way? Sure, STEM skills and working knowledge of new technology will be critical in these situations — but so will the empathy needed to communicate the relevant information in a compassionate way.

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About This Blog

Buckley Brinkman is executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity and writes about the manufacturing sector in Greater Madison and throughout Wisconsin. He has a breadth of experience in helping companies drive growth, world-class competitiveness, and performance excellence, and has led efforts to save dozens of operations in the U.S. by finding new ways for them to compete. A Wisconsin native, Brinkman holds a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.



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