Get ready for the shift: the Future of Work

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TheShiftA big aspect of planning for retirement is health and longevity. Back in the summer, I devoted a blog at the Hub’s sister site to Mark Venning of ChangeRangers.com. Venning helps clients prepare for two things: making the shift from employment to entrepreneurship, and also to help prepare for a future of extended longevity and life expectancy. That’s “why the word ‘Retirement’ doesn’t work for me. It’s about longevity planning,” he told me, “My core message is plan for your longevity, not for retirement.”

That’s one reason the Financial Independence Hub includes sections both on Entrepreneurship and Aging & Longevity. But we’re not just a site for the Boomers: we take an “Ages & Stages” approach to financial independence, starting with material for Millennials and their focus on debt reduction, family formation and home ownership. Then by the time we reach those in mid-life (call them Gen X if you will), the focus is on Wealth Accumulation.

One of several book recommendations from Venning to his students — many of them terminated from full-time employment — is a book by Lynda Gratton called The Shift: The future of work is already here. It’s not brand new: my copy was published by Harper Collins in 2011. But it’s still relevant, especially to the generation of baby boomers, myself and Venning included, who are grappling with the issues of retirement planning.

Gratton, who is a business school professor, identifies five forces that are shaping the world of work, plus three “shifts.” They’re all worth summarizing here.

The 5 forces shaping our future

1.) Technology
2.) Globalization
3.) Demography and Longevity
4.) Society
5.) Energy Resources

The 3 shifts

1.) From shallow generalist to serial master
2.) From isolated competitor to innovative connector
3.) From voracious consumer to impassioned producer

For baby boomers and others who are nearing retirement, or moving into semi-retirement or self-employment, almost all of these forces and shifts need to be taken into consideration. In earlier blogs like this one — Never Work Again — we looked at the revolution in Internet marketing, which is based on both the Technology force and Globalization. When you can run a web-based business from anywhere in the world merely with a laptop computer and a smartphone, you know you’re embracing these forces.

Gratton’s points on demography and longevity seem particularly apt: this was the topic that most fascinated the team of researchers she tapped into for the book. “We quickly understood that technology is changing everything and will continue to do so, and that natural resources are depleted and carbon footprints must be reduced,” she writes. But demography and longevity “is intimately about us, our friends and our children … It’s about how many people are working, and for how long.”

 
The dark side: some boomers will grow old poor

In 2010, when Gratton was writing the book, there were four distinct generations in the workforce: the Boomers’ parents, the Boomers, Gen X (born between 1969 and 1979) and Gen Y (1980 to 1995). And coming up is Gen Z, born after 1995. Gen Y will be ascendent in the workplace by 2025 but increasing longevity means the Boomers and Gen X will still be hanging around, wanting to work and contribute in some capacity well into their 60s, if not beyond. Gratton also warns that “some baby boomers will grow old poor,” particularly if they don’t respond to the gift of extended longevity by embracing the forces and shifts that are confronting them.

laptop-millionaireBecause of globalization and technology, the privilege of being born in North America may no longer be sufficient advantage for those who don’t embrace The Shift. Books like The Laptop Millionaire describe how those with wealth can take advantage of outsourcing: for example, hiring English-speaking Filipinos as full-time virtual assistants for something like $250 or $300/month.

There is a dark side to these shifts: those not equipped to embrace change increasingly will have to compete for jobs or contracts with people half a world away who are technologically sophisticated and willing and able to work for much less than North Americans.

Gratton devotes big chunks of the book to fictional scenarios of the near future of work, some of them pessimistic, some of them optimistic. All in all, it’s well worth reading. It reinforced my own belief that “If you’re not sure whether you should retire or can afford to do so, then just keep working, preferably in a congenial line of work you can continue to practice well into your 70s.”

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