A rectangle, circle and triangle overlapping

Why are 21C skills needed?


Who is the workforce of the future?


Generation Z are the one million young New Zealanders now in our education system, born after 1995. These young people will have working lives that bear very little resemblance to those of older New Zealanders.

They will come of age during the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a period where automation, globalization and collaboration will make most manual, non-cognitive and impersonal jobs redundant, but people who have high creative and intrapersonal skills significantly in demand.

Constant and accelerating change will mean that learning becomes much more important than knowing, with the focus on agile talent – workers who are constantly adapting and re-learning. Work will no longer mostly take place in jobs connected to organisations and over a 40 year working life. These young people will work for 70 or more years, developing portable skills through work and ongoing education, working with and for many different types of organisations and adapting to constant change.

Linear diagram of the 21C Career including icons of a clock, buildings, infinity symbol, triangle, heaxgon and circle. Each step is highlighted with a small blurb

Are the skills we’re teaching young New Zealanders the skills that the 21st century needs?

Our NZ education system is not currently delivering for a 21C economy.

Despite innovation in our primary schools and some standout secondary schools, we are failing to build on the potential of Generation Z to take our economy forward by developing the new skills that our young people will need to thrive in these very different working lives.

Our current education system over-focuses on “old” knowledge and skills at the expense of new ones like digital and global literacy, design thinking and entrepreneurship.

It places minimal focus on the critical social and emotional skills – teamwork, organization, tenacity and resilience amongst others - that research proves strongly predict academic achievement, career success and lifelong well-being. Employers are far less interested in what employees know than what they can do with what they know.

Assessments systems are still weighted towards knowledge recitation rather than skills demonstration and, in practice, work to stifle innovation and change.

Far too many members of our future workforce spend their lives at school tired, stressed and bored – as 80% of 22,000 US high-school students recently reported. Are NZ students different?

Too few can see the link between school and work, and too many leave school without qualifications and ill-prepared to show up, dress up and skill up.

Beyond the approaches of our tertiary providers, few NZ high school students have any opportunity to understand how a 21C career will develop, and how they should go about navigating a career journey in an area which fits their interests and strengths.

Those of us working in business have been forced to recognise that disruption is both inevitable and an opportunity to transform. We expect that same recognition from New Zealand’s education system.

Who must drive change?


Ensuring our young people have the skills our economy will need to thrive is the job not only of schools and government but of businesses and the wider community. To create meaningful and sustainable change, we need to work across the education, business and policy sectors to align our vision and efforts.

What is at stake?


We are heading into a world where many New Zealanders will have outdated skills, susceptible to automation and offshoring, and not well-matched to new and emerging jobs.

If we do nothing, this could mean high unemployment and companies struggling to find employees with the right skills. This would mean a huge drain on New Zealand’s resources and potential (not to mention the happiness and wellbeing of those without the right skills).

We urgently need our education system to recognise the new 21C skillset that has been widely and globally identified as that needed to thrive in the new world of work – and to teach young New Zealanders those skills as core.

If we choose to act – to reorient our education system around the skills most important to this century - we have the exciting opportunity to give young New Zealanders a huge head start in tomorrow’s world of work.