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May 31, 201812:19 PMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Wisconsin leads the pack?

(page 1 of 2)

Memorial Day weekend is always a great time for reflection and perspective — especially after three weeks of travel — so this weekend I helped mom plant flowers at the family graves in Milwaukee, spent some time appreciating the sacrifices our warriors made that provide our way of life, and then invested a few hours thinking about Wisconsin and our position for the future. I concluded we’ve done a terrific job in the past to build a strong manufacturing base and now we face critical challenges to our leadership position.

Wisconsin is a leading manufacturing state with a long legacy of success and innovation. That legacy puts us in position to take advantage of a future that includes ubiquitous exponential change. The resulting transformation heading our way will force all of us to create a narrative for our lives and businesses. Together, we will change the Wisconsin landscape by collaborating to create a new base for success. This approach puts us in the lead on key issues, while others will require more work.

Wisconsin leads the pack in addressing the skills gap — a pervasive issue facing the entire country. Statewide leaders from many different backgrounds came together to carefully define the problem and develop systematic approaches to address the critical skills issues. People from industry, education, government, and other key groups created unique coalitions to construct practical ways to put people to work. This Wisconsin pragmatism created momentum around actions that truly make a difference. We clearly lead the country in removing the skills gap as an obstacle to filling open positions.

Still, challenges remain.

Many of these result from the skills gap morphing into a body gap — not enough people available to grow the economy. In fact, the Wisconsin workforce will not grow again for two decades. This threatens our economy because economic growth results from workforce growth plus productivity growth. Stagnant workforce growth means that even a modest 3% GDP growth requires productivity gains not achieved since World War II. Overcoming the body gap will be the major challenge for every growing Wisconsin company for the foreseeable future.

This challenge provides Wisconsin the opportunity to leapfrog many states in applying new technology in pragmatic ways. Exponential change creates new openings for companies to transform their operations and competitive markets. The “three Ts” (talent, technology, and techniques) form the cornerstone of effective transformation. Engaging talent, identifying relevant technology, and combining the two in new techniques will harness change in new and creative ways. Every organization must experiment with these elements in order to survive.

The IndustryWeek Manufacturing and Technology Conference highlighted many ways to harness the three Ts in new ways to create that transformation. At the conference in North Carolina I saw flying drones taking inventory; robotics and other forms of automation making traditional tasks faster and easier; and new technologies engaging employees in more effective ways. Heck, there was even a 16-foot, 12-ton MegaBot fighting robot – not very practical, but still very cool!

It was all a bit overwhelming, but I felt a little less stressed when it became clear that even Fortune 50 companies struggle with the possibilities. C-level executives from GE, Toyota, and Lincoln Electric all described their transformational journey in terms of lifelong learning, rather than definitive solutions for the future. These executives made it obvious that waiting for clear direction and proven technology may not be the best survival strategy. Every organization must experiment in smart ways to learn what works. We can be first — and best!


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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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