Our Next Challenge: The Body Gap

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 non-traditional ways. Forward-looking organizations aligned to this mindset are solidifying their talent pipelines by creating more opportunities for students to explore their options.

Wisconsin did great work solving half the workforce problem facing our economy, as the Skills Gap is quickly closing. Unfortunately, this alone will not be 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 non-traditional 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, multi-pronged response across Three Ts: Talent, Technology, and Techniques. Pushing these Ts results in a fourth T: Transformation.

In the past, organizations could thrive by excelling in one of the Ts. Now, success requires an integrated approach because of the shortage of Talent, accelerating change in Technology, and the new work Techniques ubiquitous connectivity makes possible. Only harnessing the leverage between the 3Ts will generate the Transformation we need to grow.

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.

Only disruptive change and innovation across the 3Ts will generate Transformation. Our organizations face a critical decision: Disrupt or be disrupted. It’s much easier to stay on the slow-and-steady path and live with the status quo and incremental change. After all, it’s worked in the past, right? The difference now is that there are companies in every industry exploring new ways to engage customers in order to upset entire markets. Accelerating technological change enables more and more upstart companies to challenge incumbents. Are you willing to bet your future that another Uber won’t disrupt your industry?

Fortunately, great Wisconsin resources and alliances are available to transform organizations. The expertise and dedication these people bring to complex situations lowers the risk of transformational change. If you’re looking to start this journey, be sure you pick a partner that can demonstrate impact and who shows a willingness to find the best resources – even (especially) if it means someone else benefits. Effective change pathways are well developed, but require a step of faith in order to move forward. That faith and the right partners will lead to transformation.

I’m optimistic about our future and the changes we can make together. Wisconsinites enjoy challenges and working together to build a brighter tomorrow. We did a great job addressing the Skills Gap and serve as a shining example to the rest of the country. That’s a terrific warm-up for tackling the Body Gap. We will certainly succeed once again. We have the will, the expertise, and the alliances necessary to keep our part of the world in the forefront of manufacturing.

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