Are Today’s Students Ready for Possible Future of Work Contexts? What We Learn from Amanda

Topics: Future of Learning

Guest post by Kimberly Daniels

In The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out, KnowledgeWorks explored how two key drivers of change, the rise of smart machines and the decline of the full-time employee, could reshape work in 2040. Four scenarios illustrate how two critical uncertainties related to how these drivers of change and people’s responses to them could impact readiness for further learning, work and life. The scenarios also illuminate the kinds of supports that could be available to young people and adults for future success.

This blog post is the fifth in a series that examines the readiness attributes demonstrated by eight fictional personas who portray what success could look like. It is designed to get readers thinking about the knowledge, skills and dispositions people may need or want to develop in order to be ready for future work contexts, however the current uncertainties unfold. This post is about the fictional persona, Amanda.

This story of the fictional personal Amanda raises important questions about what people might need to know and be able to do today in order to be ready for a possible future work context that is similar to the scenario that she inhabits.Amanda’s work context in 2040 is characterized by the high technological displacement of human workers and by intentional systemic adaptation to the changing employment landscape. In this context, employers’ widespread embrace of automation and artificially-intelligent systems and a nationwide move toward a new human-centered economy have influenced most people to shift to more meaningful work focused around creativity and social purpose. Girded by a basic, universal income in addition to any paid compensation, people are free to follow their passions or leverage their strengths to contribute meaningfully to society. People do so by caring for others, by creating artistic products that others use and appreciate, by engaging their communities in innovative and systematic problem solving, and by participating in community-oriented projects and ventures. Some of these are paid contributions; others are voluntary. No longer focused on career planning, most people find purpose in life planning, making education less about traditional career readiness and more about personal growth.

As a smart-clothing entrepreneur, Amanda designs and sells sensor-enabled clothing that helps promote health and wellbeing. Having used crowdfunding to purchase inventory and open a small craft shop, Amanda sells her products online and at community craft markets. Motivated by more than profit alone, she is driven by her company’s social responsibility mission to engage in collaborative social-impact projects that help meet some of the clothing needs of low-income children and elderly people. These collaborative projects, financed by a civic participation fund, present opportunities for Amanda and others who share her compassion for helping others through creative solutions to contribute to their community in socially meaningful ways.

For Amanda, readiness for being an entrepreneur started with a side project in high school and, later, an internship at a do-it-yourself lab that enabled her to turn an innovative idea into a professional craft. Using money provided by a universal basic income, Amanda then enrolled in hybrid entrepreneurship and business management courses that combined online instruction and class assignments with regular face-to-face support. While she does not have a postsecondary degree, Amanda does have an accumulation of degree credits, certifications and work experiences that have empowered and equipped her to develop the skills needed to turn personal aspirations for helping others into a successful mission-driven business.


This story of the fictional personal Amanda raises important questions about what people might need to know and be able to do today in order to be ready for a possible future work context that is similar to the scenario that she inhabits. It also raises questions as to how today’s K-12 and postsecondary education institutions and employers might respond. The questions below provide a starting point for reflection.

Reflection Questions for Educators

  • How might K-12 and postsecondary institutions cultivate entrepreneurship programs and experiences that introduce students to, and support them in developing, entrepreneurial skills?
  • How might traditional education institutions partner with maker spaces and other community-based learning organizations to help students turn innovative ideas and passions into professional careers?

Reflection Questions for Employers

  • In what ways might employers entice workers to work with them in the mid- and long-term futures given the growing number of options available to workers?
  • How might the business sector help encourage creative approaches to problem solving through entrepreneurial and/or intrapreneurial thinking?
  • How might businesses provide their workers with capacity training and/or engaging experiences to help them develop social awareness?

In The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out, you can read more about career readiness considerations for today’s students.