Updated Jun 2, 2018

The next great workplace challenge: 100-year careers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

Scientists expect people to live routinely to 100 in the coming decades, and as long as 150. Which also suggests a much longer working life lasting well into the 70s, 80s, and even 100, according to researchers with Pearson and Oxford University.

Quick take: Thinkers of various types are absorbed in navigating the age of automation and flat wages, but their challenge will be complicated by something few have considered — a much-extended bulge of older workers.

  • That includes an even harder time balancing new blood and experience, and sussing out the best basic education for lives probably traversing numerous professions. "How will we ever prepare someone in 16 years for a 100-year career?" Pearson's Amar Kumar tells Axios.

What's going on: In researching the future of work, the Pearson-Oxford team began with a question — if a child were starting school today, what skills would he or she ideally learn in order to be ready for a possibly century-long career (the list they came up with is below)?

Among their conclusions:

  • Future students need to accumulate deep knowledge, as well as skills. This diverges from a common assumption that it's sufficient to know how to look up detail on the Internet. "You need the knowledge so you can build on it to know the next thing," Kumar said.
  • STEM skills will be ultra-useful, but must be twinned with people skills like psychology or anthropology. "Being a great coder will get you a job in 2018. But to sustain you till 2030, you need more skills," he said.
  • It's impossible for a child to learn all the necessary higher-order skills even with an eight-year graduate university education. Instead, people will return to college again and again to refresh their mind.

The assumptions about greater longevity come in part from studies at Harvard and McGill universities. David Sinclair, a professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, says that the first person who will live to be 150 has already been born.

"A child born today in the USA has a 50:50 chance of reaching 104. Some will live much longer."
— Sinclair to Axios

He went on in an email:

"This means the arc of our lives must be re-examined. Future jobs will be filled by healthy, vibrant people over 75, perhaps in non-profit work (such as my 78-year-old father) or just helping out with the family. Women will be able to have children into their 40s with new technologies, allowing them to postpone starting a family."

The top 10 skills a child born today should learn in a normal basic education, according to the Pearson-Oxford study:

  1. Learning strategies
  2. Psychology
  3. Instructing
  4. Social perceptiveness
  5. Sociology and anthropology
  6. Education and training
  7. Coordination
  8. Originality
  9. Fluency of ideas
  10. Active learning

Go deeper

Pandemic forces startups to shift gears

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Spaces CEO Brad Herman had an early warning about COVID-19 because his startup supplies VR attractions to a number of theme parks in China. Realizing that the business he spent the last few years building was going to evaporate, Herman quickly found a new way to apply his team's know-how: helping companies host Zoom teleconferences in VR.

Why it matters: Many startups are rethinking the viability of their core businesses in the wake of the coronavirus. Spaces' move is one of many such pivots likely to crop up in the coming months.

International coronavirus treatment trial uses AI to speed results

Hydroxychloroquine is one of the drugs that will be included in the trial. Photo: John Philips/Getty Images

The first hospital network in the U.S. has joined an international clinical trial using artificial intelligence to help determine which treatments for patients with the novel coronavirus are most effective on an on-going basis.

Why it matters: In the midst of a pandemic, scientists face dueling needs: to find treatments quickly and to ensure they are safe and effective. By using this new type of adaptive platform, doctors hope to collect clinical data that will help more quickly determine what actually works.

We can't just flip the switch on the coronavirus

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It feels like some big, terrible switch got flipped when the coronavirus upended our lives — so it’s natural to want to simply flip it back. But that is not how the return to normalcy will go.

The big picture: Even as the number of illnesses and deaths in the U.S. start to fall, and we start to think about leaving the house again, the way forward will likely be slow and uneven. This may feel like it all happened suddenly, but it won't end that way.