Preparing Youth for the Future of Work: Research and Recommendations from Ukraine

Preparing Youth for the Future of Work: Research and Recommendations from Ukraine

Simon Mairson


Photo of two Ukrainian youth standing in front of a future of work poster.

Where is the Ukrainian labor market heading? A key question for the public and private sectors, and for international development partners. Together with Ukrainian youth, IREX and the Center for CSR Development Ukraine looked at workforce trends and created a strong knowledge foundation for action, advocacy, and impactful development programming. Key findings include the increased value of lifelong learning, a changing workplace culture based on employee needs, and the necessity for reform in education and career services to better focus on multidisciplinary skills of the future.

The five-year USAID program Ukraine National Identity Through Youth (UNITY) aims to influence over one million youth with activities that support their leadership towards a values-based Ukrainian identity, including support for youth innovation, entrepreneurship, and career preparedness. To this end, UNITY brought together youth, employers, the public sector, and researchers to identify trends in workforce development for a research study, the first of its kind in Ukraine: The Future of Work 2030.

Research design and process

IREX’s in-country partner, the Center for CSR Development Ukraine, developed a research methodology that captures the perspectives of both employers and employees through a youth-focused lens. On the business side, CSR conducted qualitative focus groups and in-depth interviews with representatives of private companies from diverse industries in Ukraine. To amplify the voice of youth, additional focus groups brought together young Ukrainians aged 14-35, representing different genders, regions, places of residence (cities and villages), education levels, and other demographic factors, who shared their own visions for the future of work. UNITY also conducted a quantitative, 68-question youth survey, which received 1,227 responses from all regions of Ukraine. The Future of Work report offers an optimistic vision for employment in 2030, but cautions that youth, businesses, and educational institutions need to prepare for inevitable changes.

  1. The most important skill in 2030 will be the ability to learn

    Although many professions will not actually disappear due to digitalization and automation, their content will change dramatically as work moves away from routine tasks and requires more creative problem solving and innovation. There will also be an increased demand for interdisciplinary knowledge and multifunctionality as industries become more intersectional and new professions emerge.

    For this reason, the most important skill in 2030 according to youth, businesses, and experts will be the ability to learn. Experts estimate that employees will need to be retrained or pursue non-formal education every 6-8 years to remain competitive. Businesses think that youth are particularly adaptable to these changes, which is confirmed by quantitative research: 61.6% of youth believe that only some of their skills and knowledge will be relevant in 2030, and 66.2% are ready to learn continuously to succeed. UNITY recommends that youth prepare for lifelong learning by taking online courses, reading the news and professional publications of interest, and volunteering, among other activities.

  2. Employees will have the power to shape workplace culture

    The shortage of skilled workers due to an aging population and “brain drain” of specialists abroad will allow employees—including youth—to dictate a new management culture based on their personal comfort and opportunities, rather than the preferences of their employers. To keep pace with the workforce in 2030, businesses must likewise be willing and ready to adapt their approaches to fit the needs of future generations, which will give a competitive advantage in hiring and retaining youth talent.

    Through the Future of Work research, youth identified characteristics of an ideal employer, including a successful structure (a job you can be proud of), minimal bureaucracy and high trust in and respect for staff, and investment in the professional development of employees. Experts predict that employers will adopt increasingly horizontal management structure which reduce control and bureaucracy, increase delegation, and encourage teamwork. The workplace of 2030 will also have less constraints in workstyle, with the options of remote work and flexible hours increasingly prevalent. UNITY recommends that companies care for their employees’ mental and physical health, support pluralism and respect for diversity in the workplace, and offer internal training mechanisms or funding for educational opportunities.

  3. Traditional education and career services need reform

    According to the Future of Work report, traditional educational institutes are not keeping pace with changes in the workforce. While 71% of young people would be happy to receive more employment support and recommendations, only 14.3% believe that schools are preparing them for employment in 2030. “Universities should teach things that will be in demand in five years, not things that are in demand today,” explained Vladyslav Rashkovan, Ukraine’s Deputy Director at the IMF. UNITY recommends that educational institutions become more adaptable to the changing work environment for multiple industries and support parallel learning opportunities such as non-formal education and volunteering.

    Career counseling should also expand its reach by starting from lower grades, which will help students realize that they will need a diverse skillset, with a strong focus on the future. Universities should also establish career centers and sustain relationships with alumni to offer professional development services. Youth, for their part, should also be proactive about consulting career counselors to prepare personal professional development plans, analyze their skills and weaknesses, and seek learning opportunities.

Dissemination, Advocacy, and Implementation

Leveraging findings from the Future of Work research, UNITY is organizing regional week-long Future of Work Exhibitions where youth can learn about career planning, skills and industries of the future, and the workplace of 2030. The exhibitions also bring together businesses, government agencies, universities, and public sector organizations to discuss how Ukraine can develop an enabling environment for future youth career development. This dialogue between sectors is part of a larger advocacy campaign that will engage leading employers and government bodies to address key challenges for the future of work in career guidance, education and training, and youth employment in national working groups and consolidate steps in action programs and memorandums.  

In parallel, UNITY is working with youth to develop innovative solutions that implement Future of Work research recommendations at the local level. A pilot program will organize hackathons as platforms for business, local authorities, active youth, youth centers, and educational institutions to develop cooperative, practical solutions. Project examples could include local businesses and educational institutions collaborating on new youth employment opportunities; new career guidance programs based on local demand in the labor market; and programs to support young entrepreneurs based on local tourist routes and cultural attractions.

In addition to the Future of Work, UNITY is conducting other youth-focused research, including a national youth opinion poll, social media analysis, and a labor market assessment, among others. These research components allow IREX to tailor activities to the current and future needs of Ukrainian youth, while also building the capacity of local institutions to collect and use youth-focused data beyond the project’s lifecycle.