Workforce Strategy: What Role Does Technology Play in Labor Longevity?

As c-suites continue to rethink labor trends — particularly issues like remote connectivity and urban/rural mixes — another trend is impacting strategy and planning: A workforce that lives longer.

Age no longer means what it once did. People are healthy and alert past retirement age, and longevity in the future, according to a recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, is likely to extend as long as 100 years.

Writes Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School and director of the school’s Human Resource Strategy in Transforming Companies program: “In a dynamic labor market, where jobs and skill requirements are no longer static, accurate anticipation is key to managing a working life. Anticipation provides people with opportunities to gauge which jobs may be at risk and to identify the tasks and jobs that are being created.”

As populations age, will they continue to work and learn? Perhaps. If becoming a 100-year-old truly becomes common, the typical working life may extend until age 80, just as the typical working life now extends until 65 or so, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifying average life expectancy nearing 80.

But Gratton stresses that such a change is not likely to be a simple extension of life-at-the-office as workers grey. It will require a restructuring of the matrix in which jobs now exist, with support from governments and corporations, and planning from people themselves.

The End of the 3-Stage Life?

Life for the past century or so has been divided into 3 stages: education, work, and retirement.

But life in the future may need to be multi-stage. That’s because people working until 80 — in presumably 55-plus years of working life — will likely have lived through seismic cultural shifts and technological disruptions. Just as a 60-year-old now is likely to have entered offices in the age of the typewriter and now wields a laptop, the 80-year-olds of the future will be working on technologies that perhaps have not been invented yet.

As a result, they are not likely to confine their learning to the kindergarten through college years, either. They will have to be life-long learners.

Technology makes life-long learning accessible and convenient.

Technological platforms lend themselves to both educating and training the workforce of the future. They are likely to be leading the way in technological knowledge, which will comprise a large part of future work knowledge. They are flexible and accessible across populations.

As a result, platforms like massive open online courses (MOOCs) and online education providers like Khan Academy are likely to play a big role.

Education and Training in the Future

Workers themselves will need to be proactive in maintaining their expertise and knowledge of what markets are going to experience strong demand and job growth.

But they are also, according to the MIT Sloan Review, likely to need help financing life-long learning.

Governments are one potential source of aid, as they are now. They can make learning tax deductible or otherwise advantageous. They can provide tax or other credits. Singapore, for example, provides a credit of SG$500 (U.S.$345) to fund training via specific providers, including universities and MOOCs.

Corporations can also offer paths to education for their employees. AT&T, for example, currently expends a total of $250 million in learning and training. The amount includes tuition reimbursement capped at $25,000 for undergraduate work. Perhaps of equal importance, the company is engaged in predictive analysis about the jobs of the future, pinpointing the skills and competencies needed but also which jobs are likely to see an increase and which might be at risk.

Will we work until 80 in the future? If we do, we’re likely to need expanded learning to bridge cultural and technology changes.