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

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 sixth 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, Humberto.

This story of the fictional personal Humberto 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.Humberto’s work context in 2040 is characterized by the high technological displacement of human workers and by intentional systemic adaptation in response 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 corporate artist in residence, Humberto is part of a diverse team that combines creative problem-solving with flexible thinking for work on special projects. His team contributes to the success of those projects by imagining possibilities and by stimulating innovative thinking around strategic issues and opportunities. Humberto also undertakes a side project involving game activities to assist youth in identifying their ambitions, engaging critical thinking and developing problem-solving skills for everyday life.

For Humberto, career readiness was initially influenced by an appreciation of math and the art of problem-solving during his years at a STEM early college high school. Subsequently, he decided to focus on his passion for art, which he chose as his college major along with a minor in data science. In graduate school, Humberto earned a Masters in Fine Arts degree. Following graduate school, his participation in community art installations as part of an automation dividend program afforded him the opportunity to impact public policy issues affecting communities. Humberto also attended seminars and took virtual courses to earn additional certifications or for personal growth. He maintains an interactive portfolio showcasing his learning achievements, career development and professional and personal competencies.


This story of the fictional persona Humberto 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 K-12 and postsecondary educators help learners cultivate productive emotional responses and other uniquely human capabilities and practices that will empower them to succeed in the emerging work environment?
  • How might colleges and universities leverage undergraduate and graduate programs in fields such as the arts and humanities to prepare learners for engaging innovative and critical thinking around strategic issues and opportunities?

Reflection Questions for Employers

  • How might employers cultivate diverse teams that understand and apply the art of creative problem solving in addressing critical issues and opportunities?
  • How might existing and future work contexts foster supports for workers to train and mentor youth in identifying their passions and ambitions and developing crucial readiness skills?

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