Lifelong learning is certainly not a concept new to this millennium. Let me pick up the history at a mid-point in the 1990’s. This concept got an uptick through a period of massive corporate downsizings. It became part of the career management mantra, where everyone got the message – don’t expect the promise of lifelong employment in one organization, and as a result, do expect that you will need to become among other things, a lifelong learner.
If the message were a movie title, we could call it the “Andragogy Strain”.
I would fain grow old learning many things. – Plato
Zap. Two decades later. Here we are in the mid-twenty teens and the tone of the message around self-directed lifelong learning is taking on even larger relevance when threaded, not only into the changing lanes of the employment landscape, but also when layered alongside the continuous shift of aging demographics in what is becoming the speedy evolution of a longevity society.
Despite all the signs and the omens in the news, we are only beginning to learn what it will be like to live, and yes – work longer. As with any complex story in the news, there is always more than one angle to it. We can easily be lost in the furry of the current narrative about the future as “an innovation economy”, demographic shifts in global employment markets, talent gaps, skills shortages or the dearth of decent jobs and precarious work.
Given all this, one thought persists; if what we think we will need to learn is a moving target, learning curves are constant. So the one angle that I will let jut out for me here is the one that starts with the question – Given a society with the potential for greater longevity, will people working longer become the norm? By choice or necessity, or both? And if so, (and it’s already trending that way) – by extension I guess you could ask – won’t we need to remain among other things, a lifelong learner?
For the individual who will no doubt be engaged in that lifelong relationship to learning through differing types and structures of work, this requires a meatier response when you place the question of working longer against a most certainly different world of work in 2020 – or stretch it again, 2030. For the education, business and government sectors, this will be just as meaty.
Lifelong learning, thinking Nordic
Ever since the late 1990’s, it seems more than ever, employment markets wait for no one. In certain markets, where populations are tipping their weight north of age 60, there is some growing recognition that retaining by re-educating workers in an already evident longevity society is a good investment. Getting older, need them working, up the old normative retirement age to begin with and then either incentivize or mandate their lifelong learning.
For example, in a recent 2016 report titled Working Life in the Nordic Region authored by Poul Nielson, there are fourteen proposals for improving working life or Työelämä. On the subject of adult education, the proposal begins by stating:
“The Nordic governments should commit to the principle of introducing mandatory adult and continuing training for everybody in the labor markets in the Nordic region and, together with the social partners, should decide to implement experimental activities via joint pilot projects…”
Further still Nielson goes on to say in an EU Observer article Nordic Seniors – School’s not out forever; “… with a rising pension age, people approaching 60-65 years – who still has 5-10 years more on the labour market – they should have the opportunity to refresh their skills seriously. And as a new mandatory right.”
Sometimes we in Canada see ourselves as a Nordic nation, and I wonder, how well would that mandatory approach go over here? There is meanwhile, a little known, apparently little used optional item tucked away in Canada’s Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), called the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP). If it suits your situation, you can take out a loan to finance your education; but there are limiting rules. How Nordic is that?
At an upcoming National Institute on Ageing (NIA) conference in Toronto I am attending, there is a breakout session on the topic: Social Innovation, Productive Activity & Lifelong Learning. The discussion question is – “How should Canadian employers, education, municipalities and social entrepreneurs evolve their thinking and options for older adults to increase their participation in the labour force, volunteerism or in lifelong learning via continuing education programs?”
Of course, there is a difference between ongoing skills development specific to the needs of a particular type of work to meet a market demand, and an individual deciding what they have a passion or preference to learn at any given stage of their life course. Are you learning to earn a living, or yearning to learn for the self? Ask Plato. It is a lifelong journey.