Ask a business person and a sociologist what they consider the most important skills to teach teenagers - and you might expect quite different answers.

Surely the business person would be all about work skills for running a business or readiness for a job, the social scientist about abstract thinking skills?

But Kate Hawthorn, who teaches Year 11 to 13 business at ACG Parnell College, and ACG Senior College sociology teacher Justin Peters have the same answer.

"We teach life skills and thinking skills," says Hawthorn. "Students appreciate how business affects their world but it's also about dealing with people, understanding EI [emotional intelligence] vs IQ, and the way we think differently from other people.


"It's about thinking critically about why this is important to them and the decisions they make for themselves and for others.

Peters echoes that: "Critical thinking should be integrated into all subjects, including maths, economics, business as well as the humanities. It's about a subject being taught well, learning not just that two plus two equals four but asking 'how did we come to that?' and 'how does X lead to Y?'"

Peters, who taught at one of the few high schools offering NCEA psychology when he first arrived in New Zealand in 2005 (it is common in his native UK), introduced sociology when he arrived at ACG Senior College in 2008. From 2017, it will be offered from Year 11 to 13.

"I looked at the students and thought, 'these guys are already displaying critical thinking with the questions they are asking'," Peters says. "It's a neat subject for this age, as they are questioning the world around them, so sociology gives them a framework to examine this using economics, history, politics, philosophy.

"Sociology is the foundation of everything we know, the environment we operate in. Once you've studied it, you never see the world in the same way again."

Business studies incorporate marketing, operations, logistics and production, as well as economics and environmental economics but, with Hawthorn's guidance, students use similar critical thinking.

"It's not just business, it's people and their stories," she says. "What is the impact on the economy, or unemployment - these decisions have to be made as human beings, how do we handle that?

"When we look at the environment and sustainability, what are the costs of, say, packaging or the use of rare resources? I can teach my students the theory - but what they're learning is how to deal with people and run an organisation while considering the social impacts and trying to solve the difficult problems in an ever-changing business environment."

Hawthorn encourages students to compete in the Young Enterprise Scheme as an extra-curricular activity. This year's senior team has won regionals and is now competing in the national finals, with leader Dipan Patel winning Young Entrepreneur for Central Auckland.

The teams create and launch a real product, with real money, working in their own time. By critiquing their own performance and analysing their personal management styles, Hawthorne's Young Enterprise students learn to value ideas - and the execution of same.

Some are taking part, their teacher notes, even though they do not plan to study commerce or economics post-high school.

She and Peters recognise the future of work is changing so fast their students will need human skills first, life skills that help them think about why things are happening and what that means for their world.

"It's interesting to see that the students see 9 to 5 is not the only option any more," says Hawthorn. "They say, 'let's just see what we can do, let's make a start-up business and do something different', they're asking how to value ideas. That's a big change from how it used to be with the number of entrepreneurs in the modern world."

It's no different for sociology students, according to Peters: "They have to work out where their skills will get them, the days of 40 years [working in one industry or for one employer] - or even five years in some hot IT company - are gone.

"It's actually a pretty difficult subject when you go from abstract theory to nailing it down and saying what's good and what's bad. But it sets them up for all manner of things."

Both teachers appreciate that a school system creating the opportunities to work with such inquiry is valued by the students - and their parents. While student career paths may be as diverse as law or social justice at the United Nations, their teachers are excited by the fact their students' sense of exploration and critical thinking will stay with them.

"They are really thinking on their own merits," says Peters. "While Trump's victory seems to have surprised all of the pundits, for example, it didn't surprise my sociology students who have been following his rise in 2016.

"My students may have a career path in mind, they may want to be a doctor or a lawyer, but being exposed to critical thinking means they are much more open-minded and flexible about what the future may hold. They will never see the world in the same way."