Transforming Wisconsin

I’m frustrated.

Wisconsin faces an economic transformation with many promising opportunities. Still, many of our business leaders remain locked-in on outdated workforce approaches that fail to recognize the changes taking place. We are on the threshold of the most significant transformation our generation has seen, but moving much too slowly to take advantage of it.

We have an opportunity to improve our state in a way we will never see again, pushed by a Body Gap that will force all organizations to change…or disappear! We’re stuck using historical approaches in a transformational environment. The path to create a bright future is wide and clear, but we’re missing it because we insist on taking the path through the old-growth woods.

The numbers show us that every organization will struggle to find workers for the foreseeable future. Manpower Group projects that the Wisconsin workforce will grow by only 0.4% between now and 2040. That’s a net increase of just 15,000 workers during that time (after accounting for 76,000 retirements every year). You can see the front edge of the Body Gap with the state’s unemployment rate at 2.7%. Only one county (out of 72) is above 5% unemployment and only six are above 4%. In fact, 47 counties are below 3%. By anyone’s definition, we are at full employment.

This has huge implications for future growth, as the mathematical formula is very simple: Workforce growth plus productivity growth equals economic growth. Productivity growth requires change and investment – a time consuming process. Full employment means that almost all the traditional workers are engaged. In this situation, it’s in all our best interests to engage non-traditional workers, as every organization’s growth depends on finding a reliable source of new talent.

Conventional approaches are not enough in this environment. In order to thrive, your organization needs a transformational narrative about three facets of your talent strategy. The first facet is branding your organization and having a good story to tell about why someone should work for your company. Second, you must understand how to engage the three Ts – Talent, Technology, and Techniques. Finally, you must understand how to tap into non-traditional labor forces. Narratives are key for future growth and these stories must be fresh – not reruns!

Branding narratives mean telling a distinctive story about why talented people should work for your organization. It starts with a clear explanation about your business and business philosophy, and how employees fit into your vision. This first step is where most companies stop, yet it’s not nearly enough. Two more elements complete the picture. First, show employees how they can make a real difference both inside and outside your organization. Second, provide opportunities for employees to reach their full potential. These three elements must form a distinctive narrative; not some “Mom and apple pie” pabulum. Do it right and you are positioned to secure an unfair share of the best talent.

The future also depends on engaging all of the three Ts: Talent, Technology, and Techniques. The Body Gap makes it critical to develop an integrated approach to these elements. Engage your talent. Remember the narrative. Find the technology that fits your future. It should create the foundation to fulfill your comprehensive narrative. Finally, use Talent and Technology with new Techniques to maximum advantage. Please don’t repave the cow path. Use this combination to transform your operation.

Supplement these advantages by creating a new talent pipeline that engages non-traditional workers. It’s amazing to me how locked-in companies are on recruiting efforts with diminishing returns. They continue to refine and intensify historical talent approaches. It’s like trying to get more juice from a dry orange by squeezing harder. It baffles me why these organizations return to the same sources time and time again when they know where large pools of non-traditional employees exist. These companies seem to operate with a paradigm that says it’s not their job to invest in these workers. This makes no sense when there’s a possibility to develop a reliable, new talent pipeline.

Here are two quick recent examples of approaches to this talent pool. Employ Milwaukee taps into the population of recently released prisoners. They use the Department of Corrections’ assessments to target people with the best potential. Once identified, Employ Milwaukee provides the training and connections to build new careers. They provide a steady talent source for companies willing to invest in and catalyze these new efforts.

I also ran into an example that demonstrates ongoing lock-in. That company uses a traditional recruiting approach and wound up with a core group of immigrant employees speaking limited English. All of them are reliable, effective employees for a solid company. The company knows they can create a new talent pipeline by tapping into this community, but language is an issue. Company leaders encountered some equal treatment issues when they invested in language classes for these employees. Rather than finding a solution and pushing through this obstacle, they are choking off this talent source by reinforcing a locked-in approach.

The future we face demands creative workforce approaches. Our ecosystem is going through transformational change and our organizations must transform as well. Lock-in to traditional approaches prevents us from growing in the face of pervasive talent challenges. We have an opportunity to transform our state for future generations. That requires all of us to open our minds, release old paradigms, and engage in new efforts to make the most of what we’ve been given.

Are you up to the challenge?

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