First published on Skip Prichard's website.
How long do you have until you retire? Are you nearing the end of your career or just starting out? What if careers lasted for 100 years? What if education lasted, not for four years, but for your entire lifetime?
That’s what Michelle R. Weise, Ph.D. predicts and prepares us for in her book, Long-Life Learning: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet. She argues that we need to change our thinking to prepare for a soon-to-arrive future. After reading her fascinating book, we discussed her thinking and research.
“In a 100-year work life, there will no longer be a single transition from schooling to work. As we try to make sense of a longer, more turbulent work life, we must anticipate that learning and continual skill development will become a way of life.”
Before we begin, you worked with Clayton Christensen for a few years, and he had a profound influence on your work. Tell us more about how he influenced your thinking.
Clay’s theories of disruptive innovation gave me a compelling and constructive way to analyze innovations that are new and nascent, rather than dismiss or disparage them because they’re seemingly of a lower or different quality. I’ve learned that it’s precisely when we sense that very human reflex to reject that new idea, that we might need to pay attention to this new thing because it might be just “good enough” (Clay’s words) to transform an industry.
How has the digital revolution, technology advancement, and automation, AI, etc. changed the workforce?
Technology has impacted nearly every facet of our economy. And these advancements will continue to give rise to entirely new kinds of jobs and careers, ones that we cannot even begin to name. It’s already been happening. In 2014, LinkedIn’s top jobs were ones that hadn’t existed five years earlier—roles like iOS/Android developer, UI/UX designer, cloud manager, big data architect, and social media intern. Artificial intelligence (AI), in particular, is infiltrating everything we do. Andrew Ng, the founder of the Google Brain Deep Learning Project, calls AI “the new electricity.” Just like electricity, AI will impact everything. So, what does this mean? We are all going to have to get into the business of preparing for jobs that don’t even exist yet.
Increasing lifespans lead you to ask the question: Will a four-year education taken at the beginning of a 100-year career adequately prepare a worker for their entire life? I’m curious, even before longer lives, did it ever?
Yes, in fact, it used to be the case that even just a high school diploma could lead to great jobs with benefits and access to on-the-job training, as well as family-sustaining wages. Prior to the 1970s, the majority of high school grads went straight into the workforce, so those who went on to college effectively had an automatic ticket into the middle class.
Over the last few decades, however, the signaling power of a college degree has faded. More people go to college, and there are so many more colleges and universities in the country that are hard to differentiate from one another. So it works less well for employers to depend on the degree as a proxy for talent and capabilities. It’s a less useful sorting mechanism when there are now over 738,000 unique credentials flooding the education and labor markets. To exacerbate matters, the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the labor market are changing at a pace and on a scale never before seen. More of us will have to pivot and acquire new skills over a longer and more turbulent work life. Even early baby boomers today are experiencing 12 job changes on average by the time they retire. The number of job transitions we can expect will only go up. And as things stand now, none of this is set up to be a seamless or easily navigable experience.
Most everyone will agree with the concept of lifelong learning, but not everyone actually lives it. What are some ways leaders can actively encourage it?
For all the talk of lifelong learning, educational and funding models remain antiquated. We can’t access many on- or off-ramps in and out of learning and work today. In fact, we often get penalized if we take one of those off-ramps. The opportunity ahead for leaders is to invest in the systems, architecture, and infrastructure needed to facilitate seamless movements in and out of learning and work.
For employers, in particular, this means looking within to cultivate their existing workforce and providing opportunities within the flow of work for their people to develop new skills for the jobs of the future. Organizations often do not carve out time for reskilling or upskilling. The expectation is that workers will somehow stack more training on top of all of the other demands in their lives. Time is the biggest barrier—the biggest point of friction when it comes to talent development—so it is critical for leaders to integrate learning opportunities into the workday, so workers can continue to earn a living while building new skills.
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