Our projects

The 21C Skills Lab is a space for designing, developing, testing and rolling out solutions to the big issues around how our education system can transform to better meet the 21C needs of young people and employers.

We are a “lab”, where the people who understand the issues best come together to dive deep into the challenges, create new solutions, prototype and test them rigorously, and share them across the system – sometimes called social innovation.

Our work is focused around priority areas we think underpin educational transformation. In each area, we work through a design process to come up with one or more projects we see as having game-changing potential. For each of these projects, we bring together partners and helpers with the skills and resources we need, and who share our passion for change.

We currently have three priority areas, with one or more projects under each.



Assessing 21C skills

For our education system to focus meaningfully on developing student 21C skills, we must have both a clear idea of what these skills are and how to measure them.

Great work has been done internationally to identify critical 21C skills, and despite differences of expression, we are now clearly all talking about the same things. Our 21C skills framework translates this work into a simple framework for New Zealand, and we encourage you to use it.

Lagging behind, however, has been the measurement of those 21C skills, although much work is now going on here internationally. We see a common set of rigorous and reliable assessment tools for 21C skills as critical – without these, it is very hard for any of us to know what our students need or what our employees have, and to justify any work we do to improve them. 

As our first project in this area, we are excited to be piloting a world-leading assessment system focused on the social and emotional component of 21C skills - Tessera.

The 21C Skills Lab: Tessera Pilot

The 21C Skills Lab is partnering with ACT, a leading US-based educational testing and research organisation, to undertake a pilot administration in New Zealand of ACT Tessera, a new assessment designed to measure social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. 

Running between August and October 2017, the pilot involves 12 schools (intermediate and secondary) and tertiary organisations, mainly in Auckland, and some customisation of Tessera for the New Zealand context. 

Our pilot organisations are:

For these schools and tertiaries, the pilot is a valuable opportunity to build a deep understanding of student SEL skills. It will allow organisations to analyse students on an individual, sub-group and cohort basis, and will provide a strong basis for strategic decisions about focus areas of challenge and opportunity. Individual students will benefit by having access to a personalised report to help focus their understanding and development. Schools and tertiaries are also being supported to build educator capability in developing student SEL skills using a detailed teacher-developed Tessera Playbook.

For New Zealand, the 21C Skills Lab Tessera Pilot is a chance to build a national level understanding of SEL skills and how these differs across student sub-groups. It is also a unique opportunity to better probe the relationship between SEL skills and achievement and engagement factors in our own country.

In October 2017, the ACT team are visiting Auckland and Wellington for a series of workshops and events which will include discussion of early pilot outcomes. 


Building educator capability

Transforming our education system will require a step-change in the capability of teachers.

Right now in New Zealand, almost half of our teachers are over 50 years old, with more than 1 in 5 over 60. Many teachers – young and old – have never experienced a career outside of teaching. Whilst some innovative schools have worked hard to build teacher links with business and the community, many teachers have little or no contact with the world of work.

We need an educator workforce that can truly understand the 21C skills that young people will need to thrive in the new world of work and develop those skills across all subject-areas, support learning in a way that shows students the career relevance of the knowledge and skills they are building, and bring down the walls between the classroom and the community.

Building this workforce will require a significant focus on teacher capability – both in initial teacher education and in ongoing professional learning and development. It will require businesses and other employers to get alongside schools and teachers in a way that is strategic, sustainable and universal.

The 21C Skills Lab: ChangeLeaders Programme

The 21C Skills Lab ChangeLeaders Programme, commencing in Feb 2018, empowers educators to design, develop and test innovative new programmes to build 21C skills in their own schools.

The 6 month programme brings together up to 40 educators from schools, tertiaries and communities of learning which have used Tessera. Through the programme, educators will:

  • Identify key areas where they want to build student 21C skills, informed by their organisation’s Tessera results and its overall strategic plan.
  • Define, ideate and rapidly prototype initiatives focused on this, with the support of employer organisations and resourced by a large range of research on interventions which have had impact globally.
  • Test out one or more of the most promising initiatives in their own organisation, working together or separately
  • Iterate and refine their projects
  • Build new skills around leading and driving change, including how to make change sticky and sustainable, and able to scale. 

Through the programme, teachers will learn and practice a design thinking approach (a critical 21C skill in itself) and will support each other's learning in a facilitated community, as well as being mentored by experienced education innovators. As a community of innovators, our Trailblazer cluster will generate a powerful resource for each other - and schools which come on board next - to draw upon.

In this initial year, the Lab will partner with Education Changemakers, a highly experienced and globally sought-after agency, to lead this programme, based on their Changemaker Programme and tailored for the NZ 21C skill context.

To learn more about the programme, please contact us.

The 21C Skills Lab: Teacher Fellowships

The 21C Skills Lab is in the initial stages of developing a teacher fellowship programme designed to ensure that teachers understand through their own experience the 21C skills that are important in the workplace, and can incorporate these learnings into their teaching to engage and inspire their students. 

Teachers will work inside partner organisations on a short-term project which will enable them to see 21C skills in action. They may work within specific knowledge areas in which they have a teaching interest, but an important part of their project will be to understand the 21C skills needed to use knowledge to achieve results for an organisation. They may come to the programme both as beginner or experienced teachers.

If you are interested in being part of the development or support of this programme, please contact us.


Transforming careers support for young people

Young people graduating now are likely to work in 17 different jobs across 5 careers, through a working life of 60 to 70 years.

To a significant extent, the jobs they will do have either not been invented yet, the content of existing jobs will evolve dramatically, and the skills required will change constantly – the “half-life” of skills is now estimated at 5 years. People will work in a variety of different contexts – as employees, contractors, independent producers, entrepreneurs – and the burden will be on them to constantly renew and deepen their skills - through formal education, on-the-job experience or otherwise.

In this context, asking our young people what they want to be when they grow up makes very little sense. Yet, this focus on “jobs” – lawyer, social worker, builder – is still the way schools, tertiaries and parents talk to young people about their futures and try to support them to make choices.

We urgently need to transform careers support for young people in NZ. We need to provide young people with accurate information about and exposure to where future jobs will exist and the skills to craft and navigate multiple careers over a lifetime.

We need to shift our focus from “jobs” to “skills”, and to help young people understand the job clusters where their skills and aptitudes might fit, the skills that are important in these clusters and how they might go about developing them, and how they could navigate a career by continuing to build and evolve skills over time. 

Understanding New Zealand's New Work Order

We need to build a transformed approach to careers support on a deep, data-driven and constantly updated understanding of what jobs exist now in NZ and are likely to exist in the future, and what skills employers want or will want for those jobs.


The 21C Skills Lab is working to bring together a coalition of public and private partners to analyse hundreds of thousands of New Zealand job ads over the last few years to reveal the new job clusters in the NZ economy, identifying the skills and capabilities that will be most portable and in demand going forward, using the research approach taken in the world-leading Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order series.

This New Zealand research, able to be updated on a regular basis, will be a critical foundation for a new strategic approach to supporting young people to thrive in 21C careers. 

If you are interested in supporting this work, please contact us.