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Nov 3, 201611:47 AMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Our next challenge: the body gap

(page 1 of 2)

Great people form the backbone of successful companies. That’s particularly true of manufacturing operations and the skills needed to handle their diverse requirements. These organizations depend on a steady supply of talent and Wisconsin did a great job opening the talent pipeline by closing the skills gap. Terrific initiatives throughout the state allow workers to improve their lives by taking advantage of opportunities in manufacturing. Unfortunately, demographics are quickly turning that skills gap into a body gap requiring entirely different solutions. The skills gap is a complicated problem, but the body gap will be even thornier because our options are more limited.

Wisconsin does a terrific job addressing the skills gap and it’s great fun travelling the state to see different regions’ approaches to this challenge. Recently, I was in Green Bay celebrating the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance’s (NEWMA) success in building strong alliances with educators, students, and the community to promote manufacturing careers. This alliance recognizes teachers, promotes connections, and exposes entire communities to the broad benefits of manufacturing careers. They opened new career pathways and possibilities for students in their region. These activities strengthen the talent pipeline and refresh workforce skills to meet changing market demands.

Even in Madison we’re beginning to recognize that four years of college may not be a great career path for our best and brightest. The most important thing we can do for our kids is to keep the doors open to as many opportunities as possible. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t all that clear about what I wanted to do when I was 18 years old. Why would we ask today’s young adults — faced with a broadening world of opportunities — to limit their horizons by prematurely making the specialization choices that college degrees require? Our desperate need for talent and lifelong learners — caused by accelerating change and increasing complexity — make it important to encourage our future leaders to build their careers in nontraditional ways. Forward-looking organizations aligned to this mindset are solidifying their talent pipelines by creating more opportunities for students to explore their options.

Unfortunately, closing the skills gap is not enough to address the impending body gap. The demographics are in motion and look daunting. There aren’t enough people to grow our economy without reaching out to nontraditional labor sources and improving our productivity by 30% or more.

The skills gap was a complicated challenge but the body gap is even worse. The single-dimension initiatives working to stem the skills gap will not work going forward because the body gap hamstrings traditional solutions. The future situation will also be more complicated because most companies will not react in time. The symptoms of the body gap are identical to the skills gap — not enough skilled workers to fill positions — though the solutions are very different. These slow reactions will further limit companies’ options.

If we want to grow and improve our standard of living, then we need to effectively address the body gap. That requires a coordinated, multipronged response across the three Ts: talent, technology, and techniques. Pushing these Ts results in a fourth T: transformation.

Old solutions and change approaches don’t lead to transformation and won’t close the body gap. Our productivity statistics for the past 20 years show diminishing results from continuous improvement. Low, single-digit productivity growth will not deliver the results we need to meet this challenge. Also, continuous innovation approaches prevent us from realizing the full potential of new technology. That’s the same-old “paving the cow path” approach to innovation that disappointed us 30 years ago.


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Nov 3, 2016 04:19 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

There were fewer births in 45 Wisconsin counties I n2015 than in 2000- in 11 of those counties the drop was over 100 births a year- among the big drops were Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington Jefferson, and Dodge counties- this is not a north woods problem. Of the gains only 7 were over a 75 birth increase the rest were often pretty minimal. Dane was the outlier with the highest increase at 622 births. Most of the growth areas are near UW campuses. The state will need to attract workers from other states- that will involve a major cultural and political shift for the state- speaking as someone who moved here and invested in the state 25 years ago and is leaving because my daughter does not want to come back, We are in the beginning of a major shortage of workers and the business community needs to be looking at strategies that address some of the needs of the workforce. The message created by a handful of wealthy political donors across the state needs to be countered with a more practical business voice.

Nov 4, 2016 12:46 pm
 Posted by  P. Buckley

Recruiting is one way to address this issue; however, two trends work against its success. First, northern states have been losing population to southern states since the invention of air conditioning. We would be bucking a long-term trend. Second, the Body Gap is an issue across the U.S. -- and also every developed country in the world. People will be at a premium everywhere. Will we be able to recruit them to Wisconsin? Perhaps. Still, I'm not sure I would base my business' success on that happening.

Thanks for the comment!

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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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