The 100 Year Life – How to Prepare for the Future of Work

CAREER ADVICE   |   5 minutes  |   February 25, 2019

GetSmarter Blog Image GetSmarter Blog Image  

How would you stay relevant if you had to work well into your 70s, or even 80s? This is a question many post-millennials may eventually have to answer, and one that has huge implications for the future of work, and our place in it.

Human life expectancy has been increasing by up to three months per year for over a century, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. In their book The 100 Year Life, authors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott draw on a 20091 study to show that if the trend continues, more than half the people born in developed nations after 2000 may indeed see their 100th birthdays.

With improved longevity, delayed retirement is becoming a real consideration for those in the current workforce. Whether it’s through choice or financial need, new professionals are starting to leave the corporate world later than ever before. In fact, practically all Western countries are seeking to shift the age of retirement past 65 and place it more in line with our future life expectancies.2

As stated by Harvard Business Review, unless people are prepared to put away a lot more, those in their mid-40s are likely to work until their early 70s; and for workers in their early 20s, there’s a real chance they will need to work until their late 70s or possibly even into their 80s.3

Tie this to how quickly the job market changes, and it re-emphasises how important it is to stay on the front foot with ongoing learning and re-skilling.

The struggle to stay relevant

As our careers could potentially reach a span of up to six decades and the nature of our work continues to change, the education we obtain in early adulthood will simply not be enough to keep us qualified over the many years that follow. According to the World Economic Forum, 35% of the skills that workers needed in 2018 – regardless of industry – will have changed by 2020.4

This makes the concept of lifelong learning an absolute necessity if you want to not only stay relevant, but keep growing in the face of disruption.

The changing nature of careers

Over the past 70 years or so, the typical employee has largely followed a traditional ‘three-stage life’ approach. You get your tertiary education. You find a job and climb the corporate ladder. You retire. This has built a comfortable and reliable path of progression and learning.

But this way of working is quickly changing. Organisations have become flatter, and our careers much more fluid. When you’re expecting to live for longer, the traditional life model can transform into something far more complex, allowing you to pivot and reinvent yourself over and over.

While in the past many professionals would choose to stick to one career path, today 37% of working people believe they will completely change careers within just five years.5 This is making companies rethink the way they design their organisations. In fact, 58% of companies now believe that their new employees will stay at their company for less than 10 years.6 This has prompted them to change their employee growth paths and relook at careers within their business. Today, 83% of companies believe their employees will have ‘open careers’ within three years, and only 19% will have structured careers.7

The fourth industrial revolution

As technology evolves, this trend is only accelerating. Job descriptions are changing quickly as disruptive tech flips the script on what’s needed and what’s not. The rapid pace of innovation has the potential to make many current expertise outdated in only a few short years. According to Deloitte, the half-life of technical skills is now approximately just two years.8 As such, there’s constant pressure to master new technologies or risk becoming obsolete.

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, the World Economic Forum. “We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”9

GetSmarter Blog Image GetSmarter Blog Image  

Today, experts and general workers alike find themselves disrupted by emerging technology. From automation taking over the work of fast-food servers, to blockchain making real estate agents and legal professionals’ lives easier,10 there will be almost no sector left unaffected in the future world of work. In fact, some say that 30% of all activities can be completely automated in six out of 10 jobs,11 leaving many professionals needing to learn new skills in order to redesign their work for the future.

Hybrid professions

While the technological revolution has brought about a lot of automation, it’s also brought about opportunities for growth in the form of hybrid professions. Over the last few years, programming and data analysis have become far more accessible to less technical workers. New tools have had a democratising effect – with technical and analytical functions no longer the exclusive domain of ‘experts’, they can be harnessed to improve the effectiveness of professionals’ work across a number of business areas. This has resulted in hybrid roles that combine technical expertise and more traditional skills such as analysis, design, project management, and marketing.12

These new positions may hold titles like ‘Experience Architect’ or ‘User Experience Designer’ and will generally require workers to gain knowledge of a technical domain, industry expertise, as well as softer skills such as problem-solving. In the future of work, demand will continue to grow for these professions as they perform increasingly important functions in the digital economy.13

How learning is being redesigned for work

The need for continuous reskilling has changed the format and frequency of learning for many professionals. According to McKinsey, as much as 14% of the global workforce may need to change occupational categories completely by 2030, as digitisation and advances in AI disrupt the world of business.14 That means that your position could look completely different than it does today in just a few years.

As the modern day professional is required to develop entirely new skills to compensate for disruption, performance support learning material (or micro-learning) is no longer sufficient to keep the workforce adequately skilled. Rather, a successful career requires a combination of both continued micro-learning and macro-learning at key points throughout your development.15

GetSmarter Blog Image GetSmarter Blog Image  

Micro-learning breaks topics down into small pieces. It’s generally used as, and when, needed and can take the form of articles, emails, tutorials and more.

Macro-learning, on the other hand, offers you a more structured, guided learning experience and allows you to take larger strides in your skills development.

GetSmarter Blog Image GetSmarter Blog Image  

Companies spend more than $130 billion on training and development worldwide,16 yet many struggle to provide an updated, engaging learning experience for their teams. It’s also often not practical to send employees back to school to gain new skills. As a solution to this, many are turning to online learning as a way of preparing for future work trends. As innovative technologies and teaching models have put learning at people’s fingertips, the global marketplace for education, professional skills development, and corporate training has grown to over $400 billion.17

This is just one indication of the renewed focus on the need for education and upskilling in today’s fast-evolving economy. What is the future of work? While we can’t say for sure what the coming years will hold, in an age defined by disruption and a workforce soon to be made up of future centenarians, one thing is clear: the future is already here.

No matter where you are in your journey, explore our career guides for practical steps towards building the career you want.

  • 1 (2009). ‘Ageing populations: the challenges ahead’. Retrieved from NCBI.
  • 2 Van Solinge, H & Henkens, K. (2010). ‘Living longer, working longer? The impact of subjective life expectancy on retirement intentions and behaviour’. Retrieved from Oxford Academic.
  • 3 Gratton, L. (Jun, 2016). ‘ How Work Will Change When Most of Us Live to 100’. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review.
  • 4 Kasriel, S. (Jul, 2017). ‘Skill, re-skill and re-skill again. How to keep up with the future of work’. Retrieved from Word Economic Forum.
  • 5 Bersin, J. (Oct, 2017). ‘The future of work: The people imperative’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 6 Bersin, J. (Oct, 2017). ‘The future of work: The people imperative’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 7 Bersin, J. (Oct, 2017). ‘The future of work: The people imperative’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 8 Bersin, J. (Jul, 2017). ‘Catch the wave: The 21st-century career’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 9 Schwab, K. (Jan, 2016). ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond’. Retrieved from World Economic Forum.
  • 10 Latham, S & Humberd, Beth. ‘Four Ways Jobs Will Respond to Automation’. Retrieved from MIT Sloan Management Review.
  • 11 Manyika, J et al. (Jan, 2017). ‘Harnessing automation for a future that works’. Retrieved from McKinsey Global Institute.
  • 12 (2012). ‘How Business and Technology Skills Are Merging to Create High Opportunity Hybrid Jobs’. Retrieved from General Assembly and Burning Glass Technologies.
  • 13 Bersin, J. (Jul, 2017). ‘Catch the wave: The 21st-century career’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 14 (Dec, 2017). ‘Jobs lost, jobs gained: Workplace transitions in a time of automation;’. Retrieved from McKinsey Global Institute.
  • 15 (Nov, 2017). ‘Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages’. Retrieved from McKinsey Global Institute.
  • 16 (Nd). ‘Corporate learning redefined’. Retrieved from Deloitte.
  • 17 Bersin, J. (Jul, 2017). ‘Catch the wave: The 21st-century career’. Retrieved from Deloitte.