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

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 second 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, Sofia.

This story of the fictional personal Sofia 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.Sofia’s work context in 2040 is characterized by the low technological displacement of human workers and by intentional and systemic adaptation to the changing employment landscape. In this context, project-based assignments are organized by companies that employ people full-time but on a short-term basis of one to three years. Partnerships between people and machines have created a wide range of smart assistants and machine-assisted occupations.

As a social resources advocate, Sofia works with her county’s social services agency. Supported by an intelligent response system, she responds to voice and video inquiries from low-income residents seeking social and emergency services. She relies on voice and facial recognition software that interprets and translates callers’ spoken languages and emotional states and makes initial service recommendations. Sofia adds value by asking contextual questions that aid her in better directing callers to needed services. Additionally, she works with custom research bots that make available to her policy and legal updates and other pertinent information that impact those she serves. Sofia also uses a deep-learning system to create apps with the purpose of providing improved services to regularly-served client groups. She tracks her work performance by way of a feedback system that enables her to maintain high-quality machine-assisted services.

In preparation for her job, Sofia enrolled in a postsecondary education program following graduation from high school. Her education, coupled with her family background, provided a starting point for turning a personal desire to help others into professional skills. In keeping pace with changes that affect her work, Sofia takes advantage of on-the-job technical training offered by the county’s lifelong learning department. This department’s resources afford her the tools for maintaining a work-life portfolio that showcases her job qualifications for other service-related jobs in the county.


This story of the fictional personal Sofia 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

  • What existing or future programs offered by postsecondary education institutions might enable students to develop professional competencies for project-based work that is aligned with their passions?
  • How might K-12 and postsecondary institutions begin integrating automated bots or other artificially-intelligent tools into their education programs in order to prepare students to partner with such devices in the workplace?
  • How might lifelong learning centers partner with employers to provide on-the-job training for project-based workers?
  • How might lifelong learning centers help workers create and maintain work-life portfolios that uniquely demonstrate their qualifications?

Reflection Questions for Employers

  • What factors should employers consider in deciding whether to invest in automated systems and artificial intelligence that support and enhance human performance?
  • How might employers partner with postsecondary institutions and lifelong learning centers to help workers track their on-the-job performance? What other kind of supports might be useful to workers needing to keep pace with constant changes in the work landscape?

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