Reimagining the Future of Work and Empowering Youth

Today’s education model falls short: we must urgently do more to prepare the next generation to thrive in a changing world and create a better future.

Authors: Ayushi Angresh, Pei Yun Teng, Sumitra Pasupathy, Shirley Dhewayani Santoso, and Beth Bovis


Economic growth has long influenced the nature of our education systems. It has encouraged a focus on students acquiring the knowledge and developing the abstract skills that will create a productive workforce. Indeed, competitive wages and a relatively broad base of human capital with basic educational qualifications have enabled Asia’s rapid economic growth in the past few decades. Schools, universities, and learning institutions have functioned as reactionary entities to fuel the relentless economic growth engine.

Now, with urgent and unprecedented macro disruptions, education needs to be at the very forefront of societal progress, far beyond the dictates of economic growth.1Education needs to be about empowering people to thrive in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.


This study, led by Ashoka and A.T. Kearney, is the first in Asia focused on how businesses envision the workplace of the future, and the implications for young people in a rapidly changing world. Thirty-four diverse cross-sectoral leaders representing business, education, social entrepreneurs (Ashoka Fellows), and young changemakers in Europe and Asia, took part in in-depth interviews for the study. These are the key findings:

Our world is being fundamentally disrupted by technological and socioeconomic changes, including the fact that people are living and working longer.

This has significant implications for the work we do, the way organizations perform, and the overall well-being of people and the planet.

It is increasingly urgent to address a new and growing inequality. 

Those who can see change and rapidly adapt will thrive, while those who lack changemaking skills are at risk of falling behind. The paradigm for success is being profoundly transformed. Simply acquiring knowledge to have “the right answer” is no longer enough. In today’s hyper-connected environment, knowledge is highly accessible and increasingly commoditized, and rote learning and memorization are no longer relevant. Instead, we need to ask the right questions, take charge, solve problems, and reinvent. It is imperative to enable all young people with the right skills and experiences early on, so they can practice adapting and contributing to change for life.

The future focus of education and career development is learning to learn and adapting for the future. 

The linear nature of career development—from traditional education system to long-term employment—is fast becoming irrelevant. It will be crucial for society and workers to use new-found skills to manipulate knowledge for the greatest impact. These skills include changemaking, agility, self-direction and agency, critical thinking, problem solving, cognitive empathy, collaboration, and innovation.

Business leaders agree that we must do more to prepare our young people for the future, including modernizing the learning systems used in schools, universities, and other educational institutions.

Many businesses interviewed offered exciting ideas for reshaping learning ecosystems through private and public sector collaboration, including transforming the way they attract, recruit, manage, and develop talent.

Business leaders identified barriers to systemic change, including employers’ risk-averse recruitment practices; traditional adult mindsets and behaviors around definitions and pathways to success; individualistic, dehumanizing cultures that encourage fear of failure; and lack of collective vision and collaboration.

Given all the above, cyclical education methods that simply react to the needs of industry and economic productivity may no longer be valid. Efforts to educate and empower young people to be changemakers may play a leading role in giving them purpose and social fluency. These efforts may also ultimately help balance the need to generate profit with the desire to create the biggest impact for the greater good of humanity. 

It will take a collective vision and action by all stakeholders, and businesses have a key role in reframing traditional societal views of success.

ArticleVipin Thekk