• Justine Munro, a director of Z Energy and a member of the NZ Qualifications Authority, is the co-founder of 21 Skills Lab. The opinions expressed in this article are those of 21C Skills Lab, which is holding a public event, Future Fit?, in Auckland tomorrow featuring international researchers and local business leaders.

On September 26, over 100 Kiwi companies wrote an open letter that made it explicit a "new work order" is here. In this new world of work, many tertiary qualifications are not seen by employers as preparing young people for real world roles.

Increasingly, employers value generic skills, such as critical thinking, collaborative problem solving and global literacy not typically taught or assessed in school or tertiary courses. Employers favour potential employees with these skills that they can train, rather than those with technical qualifications either not relevant or likely to be quickly out of date.

What they have signalled is a massive change in the "deal" our education system has been built on - whereby young people invest significant time and money to obtain a tertiary qualification, having first obtained the prerequisite secondary qualifications, that will allow them to enter a job that will largely set them up for life.


What is the new education order these 100 companies point to? In the new world of work - marked by constant change and the relentless push towards automation, globalisation and collaboration - a worker is someone with a constantly developing portfolio of skills they sell to an employer or directly to the market. In that portfolio must be both technical skills which are current and relevant and a range of generic, 21st century "21C" skills that make them effective producers, innovators and collaborators.

How do we best prepare a young person to survive and thrive in this New Work Order? A newly formed "21C Skills Lab" sees three clear priorities for schools and tertiaries, employers and government to urgently work on together.

First, we have to get a clear idea of the skills we want students to have. These should include knowing the new basics in areas like digital and global working, design and entrepreneurship; an ability to use that knowledge to achieve results, through creative and critical thinking, working collaboratively to solve problems and communicate results; being curious, tenacious, organised, emotionally resilient and a team player; and having a growth mind-set that keeps you learning, unlearning and relearning.

We need ways of measuring the extent to which young people can demonstrate these skills. How can a young person show they have these skills to an employer, potentially through a qualification that properly assesses them? In the absence of that, how can an employer accurately assess what 21C skills an employee has? How can an educational organisation understand what current 21C skill levels their students have, and implement evidence-based programmes that show a measurable impact?

Secondly, we need a step-change in the capability of school teachers. Almost half our teachers are over 50, with more than one in five over 60. 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 understands the 21C skills young people will need to thrive in the new world of work. This will require a major 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.

Thirdly, we need to transform careers support for young people. We need to shift focus from "jobs" to "skills" ensuring young people understand how to build and navigate a career by continuing to build and evolve skills over time in job clusters that interest them, fit their strengths, and have strong future growth potential.

Building the new education order needed to underpin the new work order is going to take more than we currently know, from all of us.