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

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 eighth in a series of 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, Dennie.

This story of the fictional personal Dennie 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.Dennie’s work context in 2040 is characterized by the high technological displacement of human workers and by market-driven adaptation to the changing employment landscape. In this context, most people bear responsibility for navigating a strongly competitive landscape on their own, often struggling to piece together highly fragmented, short-term taskified work that is administered through dispatching platforms. They work platform performance ratings to their advantage in order to secure jobs. Those able to perform highly specialized work compete for the few existing full-time job opportunities. Among those working the platforms to access task-based work, some people compete globally for middle-skill jobs that involve professional and knowledge work, while others compete locally for low-skill jobs that involve personal service, physical labor, and administrative tasks. In addition, a number of people use dispatching platforms to help manage small business enterprises. In this employment landscape, postsecondary education is a luxury; income is driven by high platform performance scores rather than by postsecondary degree attainment.

As a smart building repair person, Dennie is part of a smart building services union that grants him access to a dispatching platform for the management of local residential buildings. Combining traditional approaches of the trade with advanced technologies, Dennie partners with an artificial intelligence system to solve building maintenance issues when smart-building software fails in some way. Owing to a competitive performance rating by clients as to service reliability, he regularly lands smart building repair and maintenance gigs.

For Dennie, career readiness was sparked during his high school years as he sought ways to earn income through taskified work organized by various task-based platforms. He also worked with his uncle, a plumber, learning to solve plumbing problems systematically. After graduating from high school, Dennie enrolled at a local community college, where he completed a certification program in smart building technology. He learned how to maintain and repair sensor-based automated building systems that are integrated with artificial intelligence as well as dispatch functions. Dennie regularly updates and renews his certification, staying current on smart building technology systems. Having enrolled in, and paid out of his own pocket for, classes in business management and financial planning, he dreams of one day starting his own business with other smart building repair professionals.


This story of the fictional personal Dennie 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 growth in a more fluid employment landscape, such as one characterized by platform-based work, impact K-12 and postsecondary education? What kinds of skill development and supports might K-12 and postsecondary institutions provide?
  • In what ways might today’s move toward personalized learning position learners to drive their own careers?

Reflection Questions for Employers

  • What costs and benefits might the widespread use of task-based workers have for employers and for society? What kinds of infrastructure and policies would be necessary to make this kind of future positive for both employers and workers?
  • How might a potential move toward a more quantified representation of employees’ knowledge, skills and experience sit alongside employers’ current interest in improving new entrants’ soft skills?
  • How might today’s task-based dispatching platforms need to evolve in order to serve as reliable hubs of professional development and support? What kinds of value propositions might there be for platform businesses in offering professional development and support to people who work for dispatching platforms?

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