One of the biggest responsibilities older people must surely have is trying to ensure that those who come behind us learn from our mistakes and benefit from the insights we’ve gained through having lived a greater number of years. While intergenerational conflict is a current flavour of the month for rationalising challenges and apportioning blame (“those old people stole our future – they don’t care about us”), in fact most older people are hardwired to care for and advise those coming up behind them, if only their own children.
A recent US article on the fastest dying jobs of this generation and those that have replaced them reminded me of the duty we have, more than ever before, to remind younger people of the inherent fragility and transience of employment. While as a nation we have embraced the aim of a university education for all, we have at the same time seemingly raised expectations for a comfortable and ongoing career for those who graduate based on the old notions of “careers for life” that no longer exist.
Although it is easy to see from the list in this article (and there’s plenty of other similar data around relating to the UK situation) that the major swing has been from manual to white collar occupations, the change goes much deeper than that. What the charts underline is that, today, no one can afford simply to secure a job and work hard in the expectation that this approach will earn them a right to employment for life.
Our current situation has been evolving for decades yet as a society we seem to have been slow to learn. The mismatch between what the workplace wants and what prospective employees have to offer seems to have increased. Despite high unemployment, employers report skills shortages – while economists, demographers and others predict that as older people retire, the situation will become even more dire. But, as we know, unemployed older people can’t get jobs either; a situation undoubtedly caused at one level by ageism but, for some, especially those who have worked in dying industries, a lack of sufficient “transferable skills”.
As working lives will now become ever longer we have a duty to stress to those coming up behind us to be vigilant about the nature of what constitutes “work” and “employability” throughout their career. It not feasible at an individual level to wait until the curtain comes down on a particular industry, job type, or even employer before focusing on “what next”.
Employability has now become an individual responsibility and to remain in work throughout life many of those just starting out may need to change direction and re-train several times. There’s nothing particularly threatening or onerous about that if we take it as the norm. Many older people now are starting to realise that if they want to continue to work into older age they will have to adopt this approach. It’s a challenge but it can be done. For many the biggest hurdle is getting over the mental barrier of “I’m over 60, what’s the point?”
Yet, with increased longevity a career change at 60 could result in 10-20 more productive and rewarding years. Of course, there’s a lot to consider concerning type and amount of work and motivation for taking on the challenge – and of course, overcoming the ageism barrier. But, if old dogs can learn new tricks, then it demonstrates that career change is possible, making it even more acceptable and feasible for younger people to consider similar changes throughout their career.
To ensure more successful working lives we have to start making real changes somewhere. Let it start with us.