When the skills gap becomes a body gap
We face a serious challenge to our economic future. Our skills gap is quickly changing into a body gap. Wisconsin addresses the skills gap as well as anyone in the country. Unfortunately, all of this effort will not be enough to overcome changing demographics. A shrinking workforce will require companies to improve productivity by almost 30% in order to maintain our present lifestyle. Making this transformation requires a new integrated approach, centered on three Ts: talent, technology, and techniques.
Wisconsin has built great alliances between industry, education, government, and other invested organizations to create effective approaches to train available workers to fill needed positions. There are many robust solutions in motion. They work together to engage the best possible workforce. These solutions take practical — not theoretical — approaches to deliver real results. My travels and discussions with people throughout the country validate the fact that Wisconsin leads the pack when it comes to workforce development.
Unfortunately, the demographics tell us that we are missing 20 million people in our workforce because Generation X accounts for only 70 million people — not the 90 million expected from historical trends. In Wisconsin, that translates to workforce numbers that will remain flat — at best — through 2024. That means modest 3% economic growth will require a 29% increase in productivity during the same period. Some experts think the workforce could actually shrink by as much as 40%. A shrinking workforce makes the situation even worse.
These numbers paint a dark picture, requiring productivity improvements not seen in the U.S. in 40 years. If we don’t reach these levels, Wisconsin economic growth will stall and our standard of living will fall.
Conversely, this situation also presents a tremendous opportunity for us to transform our communities. We will need every possible worker to fill available slots, requiring us to tap atypical sources to grow our workforce. This demand creates a once-in-our-lifetime opportunity to pull large populations out of poverty and into the middle class. It’s a daunting challenge, requiring diligent, focused effort. Still, the hard work can create huge rewards.
Our ultimate success depends upon an integrated approach to talent, technology, and techniques. In the past, companies could be successful by mastering one of these Ts. Now, companies must master — and integrate — all three into their business models. It’s not enough to approach these elements individually. Complicating the situation is a misconnect between manufacturers on the front lines and solution providers. Most solutions are siloed approaches, championing a single product or agenda. Most manufacturers have the perspective to create an integrated approach, but lack access to the most effective solutions. It’s important to synthesize integrated approaches and that requires a different mindset from the key players. I believe that change is coming and we will take advantage of our leadership position.
Wisconsin is well positioned for the future. We have some of the best and strongest manufacturers in the world, our key players cooperate on difficult issues, and the infrastructure exists for a comprehensive approach to talent, technology, and technique to address the body gap. Our ability to take effective action will revitalize Wisconsin’s economy and secure a bright future.
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