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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Project professionals to play a crucial role in adapting to demographic shifts

Project professionals to play a crucial role in adapting to demographic shifts

David Thomson, Head of External Affairs | Association for Project Management

4 min read Member content

Our rising longevity is transforming society and the economy – and project professionals will be at the heart of adapting to change, writes David Thomson of the Association for Project Management.

Of all the megatrends or era-defining ‘challenges’ being considered as part of APM’s ‘Projecting the Future’ initiative, the issue of longer lives is the most intimately human. Compared to the technology-driven challenges of the fourth industrial revolution and the systemic challenges presented by the climate crisis, rising human longevity feels qualitatively different. Yet, as our new discussion paper explores, it could be equally transformative for society – in the UK and in nations around the world – over the decades ahead.

Already, there are 15,000 people aged 100 or older in the UK today. Ten million of us can expect to live to 100; some experts think that as many as half of today’s new-borns will live to 100. The 100-year life could swiftly become unremarkable. But change is not just about 100-year-olds: it is also about the overall rising age of the population. By 2050, 1 in 4 of the UK population will be aged 65 or over. The ‘old age dependency ratio’ – that is, the ratio of working age people to older people – is falling, and fast. There are 3.3 people of working age today for each older person in the UK: by 2030 there will be just 2.6, and by 2070 it is forecast to be 2.0.

As policymakers know, an ageing society poses difficult questions. How can rising health and social care costs can be funded? What is the responsibility of individuals for their own care, and of the state? There are implications for areas of infrastructure such as housing too: will community-based living be the way to help older people live independently for longer and tackle loneliness? How can technology be used to monitor chronic health conditions and deliver preventative health care? What are the implications for the ability of younger generations to build asset wealth?

An ageing society has profound implications for government, business, and society more broadly. But how is this relevant for the project profession?

Quite simply, because projects are how successful change is delivered – and the changes created by demographics shifts and ageing societies will demand major projects across business, governments and civil society. APM’s aim throughout Projecting the Future is to help the project profession as a whole to deepen its understanding of the changing landscape in which it operates, and to collectively develop answers to some of the critical questions about how our profession can rise to the challenge of becoming a true leadership delivery profession.

We are asking project professionals and other groups with a stake in the profession to engage with us in a ‘big conversation’, through which we are starting to collectively shape answers to some of the key questions we face. We need to consider how demographic change and longer lives will affect the project profession, and how the needs of this growing group can be better represented in projects.

There is another dimension too, of course. Traditional notions about education, career trajectories, and retirement are already being ripped up, and some commentators forecast an approaching “HR battle… akin to the battles about the length of the working week and working conditions that marked the Industrial Revolution.” As working lives become longer, we will all have to face the implications of changing work patterns and develop new models that support education and re-training through life. What will be the responsibilities of individuals, employers, governments, and professional bodies? How can project skills be applied to plan for longer working lives? The conversation we are having throughout Projecting the Future will help point the way forward.

Longer lives are much to be welcomed, but we have to engage with the challenges that they will create in the years ahead. Life is, after all, the ultimate project.


APM’s Projecting the Future paper on demographic change and the 100-year life can be found here.

David Thomson is Head of External Affairs at the Association for Project Management (APM). To contact APM and contribute to Projecting the Future, email


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