A Lifelong Learning Mindset- What it Means for our Kids

I recently attended a conference at MIT called The Future of People, an event dedicated to exploring and discussing the impact science and technology could have on our lives in the next 20, 50 and 100+ years.

At the event, I learned that children, born after 2000 in industrialized countries, will likely live to 100 years. I was not familiar with that prediction and it got me thinking about how living longer could affect our kids’ lives and their careers. For sure, their lives will look very different from ours and living longer could influence how they approach plans for education, careers and retirement. It might even mean they will work longer for a variety of reasons, such as income, health benefits and personal fulfillment.

Knowing the trend of living longer, what can we, as parents, do today to help prepare our kids for their careers?

I got some great career insight from one of the conference speakers, Jeff Schwartz, Human Capital Principal, Deloitte Consulting. Jeff’s session was called “Future Careers: Engage in new kinds of paths, Learn your way up, Lead smart.” The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of embracing “lifelong learning” as a mindset.

Lifelong learning is not a new concept and according to the PewResearchCenter, most Americans today consider themselves lifelong learners. Lifelong learning is the ongoing pursuit of acquiring knowledge and skills, for professional or personal reasons, throughout our lives. It is a very good concept to introduce to our kids when they are young so that they have the expectation that learning will be a continual activity and essential for gaining expertise, acquiring new talents and broadening workplace experience.

What life looks life today

Jeff Schwartz (conference speaker) explained that a person’s life has traditionally been segmented into three distinct eras: School, Work and Retirement.

Life in 2016

What the future might look like

Jeff then presented a slide depicting what life might look like in 2050 and you can see that it’s quite different from today.

Life in 2050

People would still pursue formal education early in life but “learning” never stops and becomes a lifelong quest. I think it is important to instill in our kids that learning will no longer be a “one and done” scenario that ends after college graduation but that it will be necessary to continually learn new skills, whether it is on or off the job. Lifelong learning does not automatically mean you will need to go back to college to get a new degree but could be accomplished by taking online classes (such as those offered by edX and Coursera), participating in certificate programs, getting on-the-job career development, and/or exploring personal interests. In Jeff’s scenario, there are more ebbs and flows in work, coinciding with new learning opportunities. I was encouraged to see that “personal pursuits” play an important role throughout one’s life, which could lead to new, rewarding endeavors.

Characteristics of a career in 2050

Jeff highlighted ten career features and qualities he expects will be common in 2050. When I reviewed them, I noticed that many of them are becoming the norm today.

  1. Long (60-70 years) – Working life is getting longer and average time in a single job is decreasing
  2. Out of lockstep – Age is no longer indicative of career stage, as people switch careers more frequently
  3. Non-linear – There is an increased prevalence of lattice pathways (i.e., lateral/non-traditional) versus ladder progression
  4. Dynamic (stability) – Continuous development and reinvention are required to maintain career momentum
  5. Accelerating – Change is a constant, and speed of learning and adaptation are critical
  6. Technology augmented – Many tasks are automated and employees and employers must effectively incorporate Artificial Intelligence counterparts
  7. Partnerships / Teams – Teamwork is critical in the face of growing complexity and a mix of both right and left brain skills are essential (i.e., STEM, but also emotional intelligence, creativity, and social skills)
  8. Portfolio – Careers become a portfolio of diverse experiences versus a progression within a single pathway
  9. Projects/ Assignments – Careers consist of finite “tours of duty” within and across jobs
  10. Mass Customized – Careers are tailored to personal needs across dimensions such as pace, workload, location and schedule to enable the right balance of work and personal endeavors
Discussing career paths with our kids

As parents, we all want our children to have happy, fulfilling lives, and having discussions with our kids now about their future can help them to think about what is important to them and what will bring them satisfaction.

If you have a child in high school and they are starting to consider college, what to study and major in, and potential career paths, here are some discussion points:

  1. Be the master of your own career destiny and be prepared to take responsibility for making your own success through a combination of education, lifelong learning, creativity and perseverance.
  2. Stay motivated and relevant by constantly learning, developing new skills and gaining experience and expertise throughout your life. College is still necessary but it should be considered a launching point. You will be expected to continually develop your career with both formal and informal education.
  3. Expect change and expect the pace of technological advancements to be strong and pervasive. The best way to adapt to change and thrive is to be open to new opportunities and keep your skills current.
  4. Understand it’s ok to switch careers and try something new. With longer careers ahead, people will have more jobs and detours than current generations.
  5. Make personal pursuits a priority and plan to explore them throughout your life– it might even lead to a rewarding career.

No one can fully predict what the future holds but with the understanding that our kids are going to live longer lives than previous generations, it is important for them to understand the impact and consider ways they can prepare for the rapidly changing world.

Image Source: Jeff Schwartz, Deloitte Consulting

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