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

July 27, 2018

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 third 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, Damian.

This story of the fictional personal Damian 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 he inhabits.Damian’s work context in 2040 is characterized by the low technological displacement of human workers and by market-driven adaptation to the changing employment landscape. In this context, most people engage in short-term contingent work, often juggling multiple contracts to make sure they have sufficient income. Using artificial intelligence systems and smart devices to augment employees’ contributions, employers rely on these contingent project workers to reconfigure work processes as market needs change. Full-time positions leverage specialized knowledge and expertise.

In working as a residential health aide, Damian leverages his social network to find short-term contingent project work or “gigs.” In his current gig, he partners with a mobile care-bot at a residential facility that is embedded with smart technologies to offer optimal care for senior citizens. The mobile-care bot supports Damian’s work by providing him with data-mined reports about residents as well as with videos of interactions between them in common areas, enabling Damian to monitor social dynamics. Damian uses the reports to inform discussions with lead healthcare workers concerning the residents.

In preparing for his career, Damian completed an associate degree in physical therapy that he later supplemented with a technical credential earned through a work-and-learn program. That qualified him to work as a machine-assisted health aide. He maintains a career portfolio that includes video references from work supervisors and professors along with academic achievement reports and his work-study credential. As he moves from one gig to the next, Damian also seeks tips from former professors on new ways of applying his skills.


This story of the fictional persona Damian 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 he 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 postsecondary institutions need to evolve to keep pace with the gig economy?
  • How might postsecondary educators invest time and energy in mentoring alumni on new ways to apply skills in the rapidly growing gig economy?
  • How might postsecondary institutions, employers and/or non-governmental organizations work together to offer specialized work-study credentials for workers needing to upskill or reskill?

Reflection Questions for Employers

  • How might employers create and leverage human-machine partnerships that allow them to configure and reconfigure work processes as market needs change?
  • In the gig economy, what employment policies and practices would help balance employer and employee interests?
  • How might employers use smart monitoring systems and other technologies in ways that optimize worker efficiency and organizational effectiveness while protecting workers and customers from undue and intrusive surveillance?
  • How might workers use data to inform critical and creative thinking around improved customer- or care-oriented services?

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

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