It was a complete coincidence that I found myself reading three totally independent items discussing this countries evolving workforce recently. It started when a member of one of our client’s boards gave me the book Make It In America, written by Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris in 2011. It chronicles the demise of manufacturing in the USA, the concurrent rise in China, Japan and Germany among other nations, and most importantly how (in his view) the USA can stem and even reverse the tide. Of significance in my view is his discussion of why manufacturing is such a critical component of a growing, sustainable economy and the importance of workforce evolution in the ability for any economy to transform to accommodate advanced manufacturing. If you haven’t read it, you should!
I started Liveris’ book on a return trip from a west coast client and literally could not put it down. Upon my arrival, I of course began checking my e-mail only to find two blog posts addressing the same issue of workforce evolution, albeit from different perspectives. Kenny McDonald’s from Columbus 2020! (Click Here to Read) talks about the steady decline in the labor participation rate and what that means for communities and regions. I found both the discussion of why it is declining and the projected impact of continued decline fascinating.
Next in my queue was the latest e-letter from David Robinson’s Montrose Group with yet another “take” on the workforce conundrum (Click Here to Read). Robinson’s suggestion is that the current workforce gap in key industries of the present and future is pushing companies to important near term decisions about plant locations that reward communities and regions that are ready now. In other words, they can’t wait for individual locations to address workforce gaps.
So what’s up with all of the workforce stuff? Is it coincidence or something else? Serendipity perhaps? I think so. Our clients have struggled with the workforce “challenge” for over a decade — first not enough, then not the right kind, then too many, now too many of the wrong kind —- all coupled with the continuing and profound impact of technology on the transferability of quality/skilled labor; all of the aforementioned fed by the continuing decline of manufacturing as a component of GDP. Add to this that our investors often don’t fully appreciate how important addressing the communities or regions workforce needs directly impacts the ability to attract and retain companies and jobs. We talk about it but do they hear us? Do they really understand it?
I wish I could offer the quick fix answer here but can’t. I don’t think it’s out there, at least not yet. Those same clients mentioned previously are working hard at trying to find it. There are great collaborative models built on primary/secondary/higher education, business and government that are moving the needle. But the workforce evolution is broad, deep and enduring and the response needs to be as well. In the meantime, part of the secret is to keep digging, reading, studying, learning and most importantly, forcing application in your community or region.