Of the many ways our emerging interconnected global economy is described, an au currant example is a so-called “fourth industrial revolution”, and within that, one major social phenomenon that makes the top of the list in the discussion is – aging and longevity. It is a social systems challenge. It is a market opportunity. It is a shared human journey.
No surprise, this phenomenon, that ever since David Foot’s Boom, Bust and Echo hit the mainstream media twenty years ago (1996), the key in the front of the demographic clock has been winding time forward to a moment in 2036 – when the first Boom-child tips into age 90, and an early Gen Y child echoes into their 50’s.
Looking twenty years out from now, what I submit as a reflective thought is that as the world continues on its swiftly moving course, we are in for a flattening of age, and if we’re smart, we should have less need for demographic labels. Right now though, we are at a time when we could use a fresh, more appropriate turn of phrase when it comes to the concepts of Career and Longevity, and what it means to make a shift in describing economic value.
Re-articulate the value we bring
If we accept that extended lifetimes in the future will only expand, that means that Career is truly our life’s journey, a steeplechase on a longer course. The challenge is in how we will eventually determine economic value in a longevity society, as part of a fourth revolution. If we as individuals are to contribute to the economy at multiple stages over life’s course, then the emphasis now should be about learning a new language for how we package our personal assets and re-articulate the value we bring.
Ever since 2000, when I started following the narrative on aging and longevity, I have remained keenly observant of how we sell small-c careers, as we have taken them to mean jobs within an industry or professional field. The competition for creating interest and subsequent recruitment in well-known categories of careers has been nothing short of overwhelming – technology, financial services, pharmaceuticals and all the others on the old careers shopping list.
Beside the fact that we are still sorting out what the future demand for new talent in existing areas of work will be, there is a large gap of knowledge content in what students are learning and researching about what the promise or potential of longevity means in new areas. (This same gap goes for anyone in later life stages of life who are looking for work.) Accepting that there will be new economic value generated from new careers attributed to the phenomenon of aging and longevity, how do we help people make sense of what they choose to discover?
Endurance and perpetual motion
In a longevity society, one aspect of our human experience will be about endurance in sense-making a new narrative for work and careers – new professional areas of expertise, refashioned categories of work, re-scaled industries, fourth, fifth or sixth age technologies. How does a graduate in 2016 know for sure where their immediate choice will be, when for that matter, what they should be thinking simultaneously is – what is the next promising choice after that?
This evolutionary thinking of careers is perpetual motion.
As we move forward into what Theodore Roszak described in his book Longevity Revolution, a “compassionate economy” – where the needs and wants of an aging population will be built more and more around facilitating people as they age – the business opportunities and careers list will look a lot different. They already do. Gerontological, personal caregiving, home and health care occupations are obvious examples, but when it comes to applying traditional measurements, describing how these will contribute to growth, productivity and prosperity of a country, there will need to be a shift in how we describe economic value.
It tends to be faster or easier in terms of defining economic value when we observe the current reinvestments in traditional businesses; repositioning offerings in construction, real estate, manufacturing of medical assistance devices and financial products, to name a few.
What more can all this suggest? In many cases, where servicing human needs, such as looking after aging parents or friends, has been considered as volunteer or personal duty of care, there is a point where the untold hours dedicated to these activities of everyday occurrence need to be better recognized for their economic value. And, if we continue to demand more paid personal care services in a longevity society, we will have to pay better for those careers and re-calibrate or re-appreciate that value too.