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This month, I have been reading “The New Long Life: A
Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew J
Scott. This is a follow up to their book
“The 100-Year Life” and both look at how the old three-part life – education;
work; retirement – has been replaced by something much more fluid and intertwined.
Before my father died in 1993, I sat with him and looked at
the jobs advertised in the Sunday Times. I was 19 and he wasn’t going to see me graduate from university. He wanted to know what sort of jobs I was
attracted to so that he could picture me in my future career. I guess he assumed that the career I went in
to at 22 would be the same one I’d be doing now and all of my career. He probably assumed that I would have a
linear career in one industry, just like he did. How wrong that assumption would have been!
This book focuses on two modern-day phenomena - increased
life expectancy and artificial intelligence – and looks at the impact of both
on our lives with a particular focus on how to flourish in the future. Whilst the book addresses general life issues
as well as career-related issues, it is the career stuff that I will focus on
Technology (or will the robots be taking over our jobs)
The impact of artificial intelligence on how we work is a
perennial concern. Whilst historians
will tell you that new technologies have always (eventually) led to higher
standards of living and haven’t created aggregate unemployment, we shouldn’t
assume that will always be the case.
So, will the robots be taking over our jobs?
The book makes several interesting points about future automation
and the potential impact on jobs. It
encourages us to think about what this might mean for our own jobs in the
future. Whilst some jobs may disappear,
many new jobs will also be created.
First of all, if you think about your own job, it is probably
made up of a series of tasks. In
general, some of these tasks can probably be automated but not your entire
job. This means that your job might look
different in the future but that it will not necessarily disappear. If you’re in Manufacturing for example, about
60% of tasks could be automated. However, in Education, Management, Consulting and Healthcare, it’s more
There are also other barriers to automation. If your job is made up of non-routine tasks,
then it will be difficult to automate. If your job requires competences such as empathy, relating, judgement or
creativity, then these too are harder to automate. Safety issues, such as the need for human
overrides, can impede automation. And
finally, it may be cost prohibitive to automate.
For me, this throws up a multitude of possibilities. What routine tasks, that I tend to find dull,
could be automated in the future? What
sort of other, more interesting tasks would it free me up to do?
Consider your current role and think about which tasks could
be automated. What opportunities does
this open up? What might your future
role look like in this case?
Long Living and Fluid Careers
Not only is our life expectancy increasing by a rate of 2 –
3 years every decade so is the likelihood that these extra years of life will
be healthy. The book cites a UK study
that estimates that by the year 2035, more than 80% of those aged 65-74 will be
living free of chronic conditions (today it’s 69%).
As our life expectancy, and the length of time we remain
healthy, increases so our careers are becoming more fluid. We all know that we will be working for
longer in order to fund some kind of retirement. Whilst this might seem daunting, there is
also compelling evidence that working longer increases life expectancy.
Because of this, we are now looking to distribute our
leisure time throughout our life rather than just waiting for retirement like
my father’s generation would have done. This could be taking a gap year as part of a mid-career transition or as
a short period, around 65 years old, before “unretiring”. Alternatively, it could be redistributed
into shorter periods of time such as fewer working hours in a day or a 4-day
working week. Indeed, the human productivity
that is increasing due to automation should support us to move towards this
sort of model.
So, what is the impact of this on our traditional view of
employment and job security?
We are already starting to move away from the “full-time
employed” model and moving more towards a fluid career: e.g. freelancing,
temping, part-time work, self-employment or “gig” work. This has benefits for the individual such as
more flexibility on when you work and what you do. However, some would also say that it has
drawbacks in terms of job security.
Organisations are having to adapt. As the desire for this “contingent” style of
employment becomes more prevalent, companies are becoming more mindful of how
best to use these workers and will frequently provide corporate training and
view these workers as “on the bench”. This adds a degree of job security for those that require it.
The overriding impact of this career fluidity is that we, as
individuals, should be taking more personal responsibility for our careers. The career is no longer a joint enterprise
between you and an employer where the organisation takes responsibility for
your progression and training. The
current more flexible, multi-stage life with a broader sense of work means that
you need to be responsible for your own career planning, financial security and
personal development. In return, you
will have increased flexibility and independence.
For me, this feels exciting and freeing. How does it make you feel?
Whilst my career has looked very different to what my dad
(and I) might have expected back in 1993, I think that he would have celebrated
and embraced the fluidity we have today. As someone with many interests outside of his work - he was a pioneer in
breast cancer medication (my hero) with a deep interest in natural history and
ornithology – I think he would have enjoyed a “multi-hyphenate” work life of
As for you and me, I would say that we need to keep an eye
on the future and the possibilities that technology and longevity offer us. What might your newly crafted job and your
newly crafted career look like in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time? What could be the benefits of these changes
to you and to your family and friends?
I have only scratched the surface of what is contained
within this book. It is a recommended
read from me and contains great advice for how we can flourish in this changing
world and become social pioneers to ensure that we can all benefit from these
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