January 15, 2019updated 18 Jul 2019 8:41am

Lifelong learning and the death of the traditional career path

By Patgeary

A child born in the UK today has more than a 50% chance of living to 105. The rapid increase in life expectancy is having serious implications for how long we will work when we can comfortably retire and how much of our income we need to save for later years.

In fact, a gap year when we’re 18 years old will no longer be the expected norm. The three stages of life we have been accustomed to; education, work and retirement will soon become outdated. That’s because working until we are 80 years old without any breaks will be unsustainable and ultimately, unhealthy.

The future of work is a ‘multi-stage life cycle’, as put by Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School. This is the idea that people will start, pause and restart their career at any age and stage in their lives. However, this change will place immense pressure on the workplace to facilitate this evolution.

Whether people want to learn new skills and try a new career path or even take a sabbatical at the age of 50, companies will have to adapt. Key to ushering in this change will be technology.

The move towards lifelong learning

The demand for a more flexible career has an impact on the future of a business. Executives must think about how they design people’s workload and the way they work within the business, and with each other.

Whilst maintaining levels of productivity is important, people will most likely be more conscious of their health during the course of their work as they begin to live longer. People will increasingly look for a job that maintains a healthy work-life balance but which also offers the opportunity for continued learning.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation will create an environment of continuous learning. These digital tools will enable greater efficiency within the organisation allowing employees to identify new roles and responsibilities that didn’t exist before.

As a result, with technology continuing to evolve the workforce, people can jump back into work at any point in their ‘multi-stage life cycle’ as there will always be a new skill that needs to be learnt or a new role that requires a human to fulfil it. 

The role of technology in the ageing workforce

This demand for continued learning will escalate as emerging technology continues to disrupt the way the office operates. Whilst artificial intelligence and automation will render certain jobs obsolete, many more will be created in its place. However, these roles will be different from what we know and have today.

With the increasing prospect of working longer in an environment alongside robots, minimising this anxiety is important. In fact, an ageing population forces us to open up new ways of working and technology plays a big role in driving this. The continuous evolution of technology provides a particularly important dimension to re-skilling employees at any stage in their life.

Technology, such as automation, is freeing people to be more human and creative. Ultimately, it will help improve productivity as the technology will replace repetitive administrative tasks and allows employees to focus on complex, sophisticated and creative aspects of their role.

As people begin to age and work for longer than generations before them, automation will continue to fulfil digital tasks, and free workers to develop their professional lives in a more strategic and creative way. As put by Leslie Willcocks, Professor of Technology Work and Globalization at the London School of Economics, it is about ‘taking the robot out of the human’.

As life expectancy continues to rise, the thought of fulfilling one set of responsibilities for 60 years becomes the motivation to continue to learn new things, develop new skills, and ultimately carve a more interesting career path for oneself. And as we enter the era of lifelong learning humans will come to embrace working alongside technology such as AI and robotics.

This is why it is important that we invest in the development of revolutionary technology today — but it must be technology that put humans at the centre, taking them out of the mundane, and help them achieve a strong work-life balance as they age.