Why good health is a skills time-bomb

If we live longer, we will outlive the usefulness of the skills we have…

A UK biotech company, Juvenescence – which has a business mission to extend longevity – was recently able to raise US$100 million in a funding round. A crystal-clear statement about our interest in living long and healthy lives.

It’s an extraordinary fact that children born in rich countries today have a 50-50 chance of living beyond 105 years old. But, while life expectancy continues to increase, there is a general consensus that we, as individuals and as a society, are ill-prepared for century-plus living.

Academics such as Gratton and Scott in their 2016 book The 100 Year Life believe that we must fundamentally rethink how we approach work and education. They argue that the current three-stage life of education – work – retirement no longer applies. Instead, they propose a multi-stage life where transitions will become the norm, with repeated changes of direction and many different careers.

Combine century-plus living with a backdrop of faster, smarter and cheaper technology, and there is likely to be a very a significant churn in the labour market as traditional jobs disappear and new ones appear. As digitization hits industries, those losing jobs might not be able to re-train fast enough to qualify for new jobs that are being created. Moreover, losing jobs in this way will be a repetitive fact throughout working life.

Remember the old days?

In shorter lives with relatively stable labour markets, the knowledge and skills that a person mastered in youth could last an entire career. In a longer life with a rapidly changing job market, however, individuals must continually re-learn and re-skill.

Unfortunately, few people are equipped to make these multiple transitions. It requires flexibility and the ability to acquire new knowledge, explore new ways of thinking, and proactively build new networks. Transitions also require time. There are basically two ways of making the transition –

  • Individuals could take a ‘sequential’ approach by alternate income-earning stages and learning stages.
  • Or, they could take a ‘parallel’ approach by using their leisure and recreational time during one career stage to reinvent themselves in preparation for the next. Online learning and digital coaching platforms help make this more feasible.

In this digital age, there is of course much discussion about the need for digital skills. But given the rate of technological development, what types of skills and knowledge will remain valuable and how can they be developed? Tomoko Yokoi, a researcher at the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, proposes the HAVE model –

H: Humble
An ability to accept feedback and acknowledge that others know more than you.

A: Adaptable
An acceptance that change is constant and that changing your mind based on new information is a strength rather than a weakness.

V: Visionary
A clear sense of long-term direction, even in the face of short-term uncertainty.

E: Engaged
A willingness to listen, interact, and communicate with a strong sense of interest and curiosity in emerging trends.

The harsh reality is that preparing for century-plus living in the digital age requires making different choices that open up opportunities in exciting ways. The question is, are we are prepared to embrace them?

English business council original article.

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