Longer working lives set to become blend of high touch and high tech
Increased longevity and pressure on pension system set to transform work landscape
Skillnet Ireland chief executive Paul Healy: “We will all have to be more agile, flexible and able to move between jobs.”
Increased longevity, pressure on the pensions system, and the changing nature of employment are combining to create a profoundly different career landscape. Instead of a job for life, people will move from job to job and even hold down several jobs at the same time in working lives that extend well beyond their 65th birthdays.
“We need to look at the impact extended life expectancy is having on people’s work lives,” says Paul Healy, chief executive of Skillnet Ireland, the national agency for workforce learning. “Increased career longevity will have implications for upskilling, the nature of the employer employee relationship and the need for employees to be agile in their careers.”
Average life expectancy in Ireland is now 81.6 years and children born this year can expect to see the next century, he notes. “Globally, life expectancy has been increasing steadily for the past 50 years,” he adds. “That’s a positive thing. It’s the result of better nutrition, better healthcare, improved lifestyles and other factors.”
But the pension system hasn’t been keeping pace. “It is important to have an income in retirement,” says Healy. “The pension system is under pressure. The birth rate is not keeping up with retirees. Ireland is not as bad as Italy or Germany in that regard and the demographics here are a bit more favourable, but we still face challenges.”
Among those is the very low rate of pension coverage in this country. According to the Department of Social Protection, almost two-thirds of the working population have no supplementary pension arrangements to augment their State pension.
At the same time, the old defined-benefit pension scheme which guaranteed an income in retirement has all but disappeared from the private sector and has been replaced by defined-contribution arrangements which carry no such guarantee.
“These schemes shift the risk to employees,” Healy adds. “The burden of contributions is shifting to employees as well. This is an international trend and not exclusive to Ireland.”
A natural consequence has been the shift in the retirement age from 65 to 68. But this may be just the beginning for many of us.
“We need to ready ourselves for a long life of work and extended careers,” Healy advises. “That may be nice for some people, but it will be quite challenging for many of us. Anyone under the age of 40 has to start thinking about this. This is going to happen in the context of major technological disruption. More and more technologies like AI, robotics and cobotics are coming into the workplace. Employment is going to be a blend of high touch and high tech. The technology will be combined with the uniquely human traits of creativity, empathy, strategic thinking, collaboration and leadership.”
But that’s just one aspect. The nature of employment itself is changing and breaking down across the world. The International Labour Organisation projects that in 20 years only one in four jobs will conform to the standard employment model.
“We will all have to be more agile, flexible and able to move between jobs,” says Healy. “This puts upskilling and the need for both formal and informal learning centre stage. We all have to move with the times and embrace digital transformation.”
This means taking new approaches to career planning and management and engaging in portfolio careers. “During the new long life of work, we are likely to have multiple careers. It is going to be the norm to work on into our 70s. People are already working beyond 65 in practice. All you need to do is go to the US to see where this is going.”
And people are going to have to continually acquire new skills if they are to work with new technologies and be able to shift from career to career or work in several jobs at the same time.
According to Healy, three stakeholders are involved in meeting the challenge of new skills acquisition – the State, employers and employees. “The State is putting significant investment and resources into it,” he says. “Employers need to appreciate the competitive strength the gain from the human intellectual capital that is baked into the workforce here. They have a great natural asset on their doorstep, and they must take responsibility for skills development and the career-management process.”
Employees must make the personal choice to proactively manage their careers, he adds. “We must become lifelong learners. In terms of lifelong learning, Ireland is in the bottom quartile in comparison to other EU countries. But we are still getting a lot out of the workforce in terms of productivity and so on despite this. This shows the potential that is there if we can improve our position and Skillnet Ireland is working on that.”
“Lifelong learning and upskilling are moving to centre stage,” he says. “Skillnet Ireland is facilitating workers and employers to come together with peers in their regions and sectors to get the training and upskilling they need to remain competitive. Companies also get access to industry-led, subsidised and highly relevant training which will help them meet the future skills and career development needs of their employees.”