Wisconsin faces a serious obstacle to our economic growth aspirations. An aging population and historically low fertility rates combine to create a huge shortage of the people necessary to keep our workforce strong. This Body Gap creates strong headwinds to future growth and prosperity because we do not have the people we need to scale without significant – and discontinuous – change. Closing the Skills Gap and traditional training solutions will not be enough to overcome this long-term shortage of workers. Instead, we will need significant productivity improvements resulting from transformations of our organizations and the way we get things done.
Every person added to – or kept in – the workforce – makes future growth easier. Economic growth is a simple equation – the growth of the workforce, plus the growth in productivity. Productivity remains stubbornly flat and it’s unlikely that our workforce will grow for the next two decades. These trends spell the death of the spot labor market and – at 3% unemployment – the overall labor pool remains shallow.
In short, we need everybody (or every body) to be successful in a tight labor market in rapidly changing times. This environment makes simple solutions and traditional stereotypes unacceptable. The “lazy” stereotype used by conservatives for the unemployed is just as simplistic as the “disadvantaged” label liberals use. Neither help us move forward and the labels quickly go from unproductive positions to harmful perspectives. We need practical solutions and meaningful collaboration. These perspectives don’t help.
The exponential rate of change exacerbates this complicated situation. Technology and other world forces create a new status quo, as speed replaces contemplation and consequences follow actions much faster than ever before. Cheap data storage, unprecedented computing power, and ubiquitous connectivity transform our world and the way we interact with each other. These ongoing changes highlight our interconnectedness, forcing us to pay more attention to holistic solutions, rather than siloed fixes.
Change will also cause interests to converge. Businesses will need more people, forcing leaders to find new talent pools and make investments to develop them. At the same time, our social institutions work every day with those non-traditional talent pools, but lack investment to fully develop them. These conditions create a huge overlap of interests – an overlap that’s only getting larger.
The need for everybody should also change our rhetoric and our actions. Employees are no longer disposable assets. They must be developed. We can no longer dismiss people with differing opinions. We need to embrace groups which may make us uncomfortable on the common ground between us. Our areas of agreement are much broader than our disagreements – and they create a solid foundation for a bright future.
This is not a utopian vision – far from it! These changes are absolute requirements for future growth. Our economic interests will drive cooperation and collaboration. A growth focus will create practical solutions, not just platitudes or philosophy. These conditions require all of us to be open to new ideas and allow those ideas to change our actions going forward.
We will still disagree – that’s life! Politicians will still sow discord as part of their regular business. Radicals on both ends of the spectrum will protest, yell, and scream. The rest of us will learn how to disagree AND engage each other around solutions.
The faster we (you and I) conclude that we need everybody, the better off we will be. Those who believe and take action will see more success. Their actions will also create and attract more opportunities. We will demonstrate that it is more effective to fight for progress rather than a point of view, generating better results for everyone involved.
Take a few moments. Think about how your thoughts and actions would change if you truly believed that we need everybody to be successful. Go beyond thinking about it! Take the first few steps and watch how it changes you.