Critical time for Wisconsin

We face a critical time in Wisconsin. Demographic change threatens healthy economic growth and we must act collectively to meet this new challenge. Our organizations find it more and more difficult to tap into reliable sources of skilled workers as our population continues to age and workforce growth remains stagnant. The demographics are an unrelenting challenge and require a focused effort to increase productivity throughout the state. I can’t remember a time when we’ve faced a worker shortage of this dimension.

Shared prosperity depends on economic growth. Growth makes it possible to increase wages and lift our collective standard of living. It also makes it possible for us to invest in our future — strengthening our country and making businesses more competitive on the world stage.

Healthy growth requires skilled and talented workers. More and more our workers must adapt to and adopt change while contributing to the progress of their organizations. Their efforts form the backbone of future innovation and the continuous learning that takes place in Wisconsin’s most successful companies.

Fortunately, Wisconsin does a terrific job in preparing our workers for the future. Dozens of partnerships align efforts between industry, education, government, and other organizations addressing the state’s skills gap. These partnerships create flexible, practical approaches that leverage our workforce and prepare our workers for success today and into the future.

Unfortunately, all of this good work will not be enough to meet future needs. The demographics are against us as our workforce continues to age and the number of new entrants fail to offset those leaving the workforce. In fact, it’s unlikely that our workforce will grow for the next two decades. This impacts blue-collar positions first as the overall supply of workers remains flat and the number of people with four-year degrees continues to grow, reducing the supply of traditional blue-collar workers.

We must take a new approach to address this growth threat. Increasing productivity is the only way we will maintain even modest economic growth. We will need to do more with the same resources and leverage our present workforce by engaging with new approaches and technology. Our focus must be on creating profitable growth.

That’s a bigger challenge than it seems on the surface because even modest growth requires sustained levels of productivity improvement not seen since World War II. In fact, looking at our present anemic productivity numbers, major improvements seem impossible! The situation requires new thinking and a fresh approach.

Fortunately, most of the improvement we need can result from bringing all our enterprises up to the industry’s best practice standards. That means we know what to do to close much of the gap. We don’t require major technological or scientific breakthroughs, “just” a will to make changes and a path to make them efficiently and effectively. That’s not a small lift, but it is possible.

We often see manufacturers rush to implement new technology to solve operational problems. In most of those cases, these investments fail to reach their full potential and stall future improvement efforts in their tracks because they raise the perceived risks. As a result, the known and inefficient becomes a better path than making changes and realizing double-digit productivity gains.

Instead, the vast majority of companies should focus their attention on building a solid foundation with known best practices along a proven path. The Transformation Productivity Initiative (TPI) provides that path and those practices. This approach shows great promise as multiple manufacturers identified change opportunities that will result in productivity improvements of up to 80 percent. Those are the improvements we need to keep the Wisconsin economy growing.

If you are a Wisconsin manufacturer, explore how you can improve your productivity and boost your bottom line. These changes will make your organization more resilient in the face of ongoing talent shortages.

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