Over the last two blog posts I have examined the fact that as our life expectancy increases, we as individuals and as a society will need to make significant changes to the way we plan and live our lives. The book ‘The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity’ introduces the idea that the three-stage, ‘education-work-retirement’ template is now not fit for purpose and argues that, in future, our working lives will be longer but will be stretched over a number of stages during which work, leisure and continued education are more closely intertwined. My previous two posts have looked at how retirement and work will change as the impact of this longevity is felt. This month, in the final blog of our three-part series, I’ll be considering what it means for education, and the challenges of developing and nurturing our skills to remain relevant and marketable over a longer and more varied career.
Keeping our Options Open
During the course of a long life of many work stages and transitions, the need to invest more regularly in our skill base naturally increases. Authors of ‘The 100-Year Life…’, Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott of the London Business School, envisage a future where re-creation will be more important than recreation:
“The gift of a longer life with more time creates the space for investment. Historically this investment came in the first stage of life – in a period of full-time education. When life becomes multi-staged, then this investment happens throughout life and in periods that have traditionally been seen as leisure time.”
They predict the end of the ‘lockstep’ life of three stages and the move towards a mindset where keeping our options open becomes the norm. A longer life brings greater capacity for change and so options are more valuable. Life’s big decisions will take place later and commitments like marriage, starting a family and buying a house are already being made later now than they were in previous generations. Retaining and investing in greater options will be crucial to an individual’s success and progress in the multi-stage life.
Gratton and Scott think of our education in the broadest possible sense, incorporating not just formal schooling but also our personal development, physical and mental wellbeing and the richness and resourcefulness of our peers and family. Each will play an important role in keeping us educated sufficiently for a longer, more varied career. The authors see them as intangible assets and divide them into three distinct categories: productive assets, vitality assets, and transformational assets.
Our productive assets are the most obvious assets – the knowledge and skill we have acquired over our lives by devoting time to education, training or experiential learning. The challenge over the 100-year life will be to gather the types of knowledge which will be valuable in future and which can sustain a healthy and prosperous career. In a future world where the continued rise of technology and AI is a certainty, education which fosters innovation and creativity will be highly prized. The authors point out that “..the nineteenth century was about the Industrial Revolution and the power provided by physical capital… the twentieth century was about the advantage of education and human capital. The twenty-first century, however, will be about adding value by coming up with ideas and innovations that can be replicated or purchased by others.” Mental flexibility and agility will also be vital in helping workers move between specialisations over longer careers.
Physical and mental health, for obvious reasons, are the foundation of a happy and productive 100-year life. Investing in our bodies and minds will help us to accept a longer life as a gift to be filled with new experiences, greater productivity and capacity for change and adaptation. A truly balanced work and home life will be equally important to get right, recalibrating what we as individuals and institutions think of as an appropriate division of time between the two and eliminating the debilitating effects of stress. Long-term, regenerative friendships will be a source of strength and support and will need to be diligently nurtured.
Over the course of a longer career, some changes may be forced upon us; in other cases we may seize the initiative ourselves. Our transformational assets are what help us to make these changes successfully, and reduce any negative consequences they may bring with them. Gratton and Scott believe that high levels of self-awareness are vital for making a successful life transition. Understanding who you are now and, crucially, where and who you want to be in future is key. Reaching out to new communities and building networks will help create the stepping stones for change. A willingness to take control and embrace new experiences will be the engine of this evolution.
What does it mean for the Individual?
In the previous posts, we looked at some examples of people at different stages in their career to consider what this rethinking of the three-stage life would mean for them. We return to them now to get an idea of how this new ordering would impact on their education.
The 70-year-old: Now retired, they are likely to have lived out the conventional three-stage-life pattern where education would have been concentrated almost exclusively at the beginning of their lives, although they may have undertaken some on-the-job training. While they may have had some transformations forced on them (perhaps redundancy, or a change of location) they will have typically stayed in the same sector and have been just about able to stretch the education they gathered at the beginning of their life until the end of their career.
The 45-year-old: The stability of the ‘job-for-life’ generation had passed by the time they entered the job market. Mobility in the employment market was becoming the norm as the relationship between employer and employee became more transactional. More frequent moving between roles matched a working world where the individual was encouraged to pursue their ambitions and build a career for themselves. They may take some time out to specialise in their field, mid-career, to give themselves an edge over competitors and even re-train completely and enter an entirely new field.
The 20-year-old: Those entering the employment market today and in the future are likely to do so with the expectation of multiple changes. They will keep their options open for as long as possible and defer big, lifestyle decisions for longer than any generation prior to them. They will take a more active role in their own careers, choosing to instigate rather than react to changes. Seeking to keep their assets valuable and marketable is a primary driving force. Building up the personal and professional networks to continue to educate and improve themselves throughout their careers will become commonplace.
A Future of Optimism
As we have seen in our exploration of the implications of the 100-year life, the way we live and work will change significantly in the coming years and decades. In fact, it is vital that it does change if we, as individuals and as a society, are to be successful in building long and fulfilling lives for ourselves. Some parts of the ‘100-year-life..’ hypothesis will make startling reading for some, while others will take it in their stride, having already begun to prepare (whether consciously or not) for a different-looking future.
What’s heartening for us at Quadrant is that the authors of ‘The 100-Year-Life…’ take a very optimistic view. It’s challenging to consider change and a life of continuous toil is not one that any of us would relish. However, living longer and with the hope of better health provides the gift of options. With sound financial planning, we can prepare for this brave new world together. Whether you are seeking to return to education, change career or rethink your retirement plans, we can work with you to ensure you have the flexibility and resources to live your life for today along with the confidence of financial security in the future.
If you are inspired by “The 100-Year Life” and would like to discuss your financial planning, please get in touch.