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Future-proofing You and Your Career


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up to their book “The 100-Year Life” and both look at how the old three-part life – education; work; retirement – has been replaced by something much more fluid and intertwined.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 sharing here.

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 like 25%.

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?

Wrapping up

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 his own.

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 changes.

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