I recently attended a session on senior-year education at my son’s school. It focused entirely on the importance of preparing young adults for the next stage in their lives, be it further education or the working world.
No argument there.
But what struck me was how focused we are on this tiny phase of an individual’s life, as if this short educational period would prepare my son for the entirety of his working future. With longer life spans and a fast-changing skills landscape, this is clearly no longer a reasonable expectation.
Major shifts are occurring in society as longevity rates rise and technological changes wrought by all things digital create and destroy jobs, and even whole industries, with increasing speed. Skills that previously lasted a lifetime can become obsolete in a decade or less. In my son’s case, he can reasonably expect to live for 90 years and quite possibly to over 100. Will this brief period of education at the start of his working life really provide the skills he will need until the end of his working life? How will he ensure his career doesn’t end prematurely because of obsolete skills or a lack of funds to support later-life retraining?
Evolving Educational Life
With rapid changes in technology and personal longevity, our thinking about education needs to change, to enable people to adapt and stay productive longer. Accessibility and affordability of education is clearly a priority, and where that is available in innovative ways, the impact is evident. MOOCs (massive open online courses) have accumulated an incredible 81 million students since their first appearance in 2011.
Similarly, entry points into work must reflect a broader and more diverse age group. In Japan, policy makers are already considering moving away from a model where entry-level recruitment is solely the preserve of graduates. In the UK, the Business Champion for Older Workers initiative was launched in 2016 to improve age diversity by focusing on the economic and business benefits of supporting older workers. Aviva and Barclays have already loaned their support. Now Teach is another UK initiative that aims to help experienced professionals transition into teaching.
But even with ambitious initiatives, these transitions will require support, from an employer, social and financial point of view. Policy makers, in partnership with financial institutions and employers, must think more creatively about how to create the environments and products to support the inevitable changes in our lifestyles, including the need for retraining and the associated periods of absence from paid employment.
A possible solution could be a government-incentivized “Life Plan,” where regulated, periodic withdrawals are permitted for specific life events such as recurrent education. This could enable individuals to make the transitions required to remain productive and relevant throughout their lives. Now is the time to create innovative products and solutions to ensure that the management and growth of these funds meet the needs of a new generation.
Of course, there are working populations whose income or work practices render them unable to set money aside for savings, a trend that further increases the opportunity gap. A recent initiative launched by the UK Government acknowledges the problem by allowing individuals who are entitled to specific government benefits to receive a bonus of 50p for every £1 they save over four years. While this is an interesting initiative, we need a broader, revised look at how societies, businesses and governments support investing in our future and the mechanisms needed to do this.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the gig economy, which presents more flexible work arrangements but often at the cost of financial security. In addition, employer support is currently lacking for pensions and benefits that could support an effective lifetime transition. In the UK, over one million people (primarily between the ages of 16 and 30) are at work in the gig economy. The appropriate frameworks need to be constructed to ensure this growing component of the digital economy is equipped to make the most of a long life.
The challenge of longevity, coupled with technology, requires creative solutions. By bringing together new ideas and best practices from around the world, we can develop a blueprint for the future that supports the fundamental shift in how we – and future generations – work and live.