What are 21C skills and why are they important?

We may not know what jobs our students will be doing in the future, but we do know the universal ‘how-to’ transferable skills that employers increasingly value in early career jobs in a digitised, globalised and rapidly changing world. These skills complement and are valued as much or more than technical knowledge – we call them 21C skills


21C skills are the essential set of knowledge, abilities and personal qualities required to thrive in our rapidly changing world of work.


Young people need to:

  1. KNOW the new basics, like how to work digitally and with people from all different cultures, how to design new ways to solve problems, and how to create new businesses and projects.

  2. USE what they know to make things happen – by thinking creatively and critically, working with other people to solve problems, and communicating brilliantly.

  3. BE determined and focused on their goals; curious, resilient and a great team player.

  4. Know they can GROW and keep on developing their skills right through their lives.


  • For more explanation of 21C skills and the detailed framework used by 21C Skills Lab to describe them,
    click here .

  • For more detail on the specific 21C skills developed by the L.A.B programme, click here.

How do we know how valuable these skills are?

A recent FYA study The New Basics (2016) found that the so-called “jobs of the future” (i.e. the ones for which demand is predicted to grow in the next 30 years) require 21C skills 70% more than jobs of the past, and they pay more. Job ads now show that the demand for 21C skills is on the rise: over the past 3 years, digital literacy has been asked for 212% more, critical thinking 158% more, and creativity 65% more. Employers now request 20% more 21C skills than technical skills, with 21C skills comprising at least half of the skills requested by employers of young candidates in most industries.


  • For an in-depth understanding of the future of work and its implications for skills, check out The Foundation for Young Australians’ five report series called The New Work Order, examining how disruption to the world of work has significant implications for young people. It explores the nature of the new work order; the challenges it poses for young people in terms of career preparation and pathways; the skills which employers require as “the new basics”; the need to focus on skills not jobs in terms of career planning; the skills which are predicted to matter most in 2030; and what factors are shown to accelerate the transition for young people from full-time education to full-time work.

  • The L.A.B programme, modelled on the FYA $20 Boss programme, draws significantly on this research.

Is this programme for all students or just business studies students?

21C skills are broad “how to” skills that all young people need, not just budding businesspeople.

We encourage schools to provide the L.A.B programme across a full year group if possible, to allow all students the opportunity for this rich and multi-faceted learning experience.


For some, it may stimulate a passion for enterprise and commerce that can be built on by taking commerce focused subjects and participating in programmes such as the Young Enterprise Scheme in later years.


For all students, it will build an important understanding of how business can be used to address social and environmental challenges, as well as providing the opportunity to develop skills relevant to whatever career pathways they choose.

Which year groups should do the programme?

The L.A.B programme is very flexible and can be used with all year groups at secondary school – as well as potentially younger school students, with teachers able to adapt content as appropriate. We envisage that many teachers will choose to use the programme with Y9 and 10 students given the greater flexibility that schools have in these years.

How could we incorporate the programme into our school?

The L.A.B programme is comprised of 10 modules with each module taking between 45 and 200 minutes of learning time. The programme is very flexible, meaning that a teacher could work through modules more quickly or take their time, even expanding the content to add further learning objectives.

Some schools will choose to timetable the L.A.B programme within a single subject such as Social Studies or Enterprise and Financial Literacy. Other schools which have provision for extended time for project-based learning may choose to schedule the L.A.B programme within that.

Even if it is not possible to timetable the programme within school hours, some schools may choose to offer L.A.B as an after-school or holiday programme.

If your school has an existing innovation or entrepreneurship programme or focus, L.A.B can be used within that. You can also easily link the skills built by students through the L.A.B programme into school Graduate Profiles.

Could we use L.A.B with students outside a school setting?

L.A.B is easily adaptable to a holiday programme, a training programme or an alternative education setting.


21C Skills Lab is very happy to provide the full L.A.B programme free of charge to a non-profit or community organisation offering such services. However, for the $20 start-up capital to be provided by 21C Skills Lab, certain terms and conditions must be fulfilled. See here for more details.

What are the ten learning modules?

Module 1 - What Are 21C Skills?

Students learn what 21C skills are and why they are so important. Their focus 21C skill is growth mindset.

Module 2 - Getting Started

Students learn what an entrepreneur is and does, with an optional learning activity on Maori enterprise. This is where they will discover that they will be running a business in the L.A.B Program, while developing their 21C skills. Their focus 21C skill is entrepreneurship.

Module 3 - Idea Generation

Students will recognise their skills and passions and identify potential business opportunities through creative idea generation. Their focus 21C skill is creativity.

Module 4 - Business for Good

Students will explore how businesses can have a positive impact on society and the world through social entrepreneurship. Students will recognise successful and well-known businesses that make a difference (and a profit) and consider how their business idea could be more socially and environmentally-focussed. Their focus 21C skill is global competence.

Module 5 - Design Thinking

Students will practice design thinking through fun rapid prototyping. They will understand the value of customers through asking questions and continue to iterate their business idea. Students will be encouraged to mock-up a prototype for their product or service and seek feedback to maximise success during the trading period. Their focus 21C skill is design thinking.

Module 6 - Creative Marketing

Once their business idea is confirmed, students will learn about different marketing strategies and identify which ones will work for their business. Students will recognise which marketing products they need and will allocate responsibilities within the team to prepare ahead of the trading period. Their focus 21C skills is communication.

Module 7 - Building your Financials

Students will develop the financial framework that will underpin their business and learn about key concepts like income, cost and profits. Students will use a handy financial management tool to assist in the development of their products and services and tracking finances in the trading period. Students may start developing their products and services ahead of the trading period. Their focus 21C skill is financial literacy.

Module 8 - Planning for Success

Students will identify a plan to assist them during the trading period. Students will recognise their personal strengths that they can bring to the team and the importance of teamwork and communication (if applicable). Students will commit to a ‘contract’ to ensure accountability. Students may start developing their products and services ahead of the trading period. Their focus 21C skill is teamwork.

Module 9 - Business Trading

Students will operate their business in real life! Students will make sense first-hand of the highs and lows of operating a business. Depending on student ability, there might be an opportunity to reflect on success and iterate ahead of the next trading opportunity to maximise success. Their focus 21C skill is tenacity.

Module 10 - Celebration!

Students reflect on the challenges and achievements of their experience and present back to the class. Students identify how they can apply these learnings outside of the L.A.B programme. Some students may want to continue their businesses. Their focus 21C skill is goal-setting and planning.


How does the $20 of start-up capital work?

We want every L.A.B student to have as equal a chance as they can to shine! We make sure that every student has the same $20 – no more and no less – to contribute to their start-up venture.

In practical terms, we ask schools to tell us how many students will be participating in the programme when they register, and we pay $20 per student into the school’s bank account in time for the start of the programme at the school. At the end of the programme, each student repays the $20 to the school and the school repays 21C Skills Lab. These responsibilities are set out in our Terms and Conditions document.


We ask that schools actively discourage students from putting more of their own money into the business for the sake of fairness to all.

We appreciate that students in some schools will have access to more resources at school and at home. If you feel that your school needs some help to provide more resources for your students (e.g. office supplies, art supplies, access to coaches), please contact us to discuss how we can help.

What is provided in the toolkit?

The L.A.B Educator Toolkit provides teachers with a clear and comprehensive “plug and play” learning guide.

The toolkit contains an initial introduction covering the objectives of the programme; the student learning journey; and the core learning principles, it then provides a guide for each of the ten discrete learning modules. The guides contain a full lesson plan, a sample implementation plan, assessment, worksheets, the L.A.B learning videos, links to other useful video resources, and suggestions for further teacher and student learning.

We also provide a full online resource library with links to key L.A.B documents such as educator and student assessment tools, the student worksheet booklet, a parents’ letter, and classroom/trading printables (e.g. bunting, posters). The toolkit and all supporting documents are in Google Docs format, allowing teachers to modify freely and to import into learning management systems such as Hapara.

What experience does aN EDUCATOR need to lead the programme?

No specific experience is required to lead the programme – all the content you need is provided!
You should be comfortable though with your role as a guide and a coach for students, rather than as an instructor in a more traditional sense. Your goal is to go on a learning journey with your students – not knowing all the answers but rather guiding and facilitating the deep learning and reflection that this experiential learning will unlock.

Do you have support for teachers running the programme?

We support L.A.B teachers with a regular newsletter and webinars on areas of specific interest as these develop. We also operate a Facebook group where teachers can share their experiences with their peers. Our L.A.B team is always there too, to provide individual support when you need it.

Do you have a te reo version of the programme?

At this stage, we do not have a te reo Māori version but we would welcome the opportunity to develop one. Please let us know if you’re interested.

How can the wider
community get involved?

Since L.A.B is a real life business challenge, young people need access to businesspeople from the community to help them really engage and make the most of it. Business coaches from workplaces and small businesses provide the support schools need to make these activities a success. Business coaches give the equivalent of 8 hours over the course of a month, in 2 hour, half or full day sessions as organised between the coach and the teacher. Some schools will be able to access a local pool of business coaches from parents and nearby workplaces; others may need our help to recruit business coaches through our corporate partners and other volunteers.


For further information, click hereIf you’d like us to facilitate your involvement as a L.A.B business coach at a school near you, register here..

Do you have any examples of the businesses young people have created?

Whilst the L.A.B programme is kicking off in New Zealand in 2019, we can share some examples of the awesome businesses students on the FYA $20 Boss have built.

Over 50% of the $20 Boss businesses were in the food and beverage space (with products like healthy sushi school lunches and breakfasts) and 25% made handmade, upcycled and recycled products like a curated op-shop clothing collection, or handsewn eco-bags. Service businesses are growing too, with ideas like pop-up restaurants, rent a blanket at lunchtimes to draw attention to homelessness,  a “chocolate and positive message” delivery business in school, and custom designed Fathers’ Day cards.

Check out FYA’s $20 Boss award winners here.

What do the students do with any profits they have made?

Once students have paid back the $20 start-up capital, we encourage schools to ensure that students donate any profit to a community organisation of their choice, including potentially the school itself. Where the students are continuing the business once the programme has finished (as many now do), they can reinvest profit back into the business.

What are the L.A.B Awards and how do we enter?

The L.A.B Awards recognise the top three L.A.B businesses each year in terms of social impact, innovative business idea, marketing and reach, and profit raised.

Students make their own applications, encouraged and endorsed by a teacher. We call for applications via participating organisations around September each year.

The annual L.A.B Awards are held in Auckland in late October, and are an opportunity for students, teachers, business coaches and L.A.B’s partners and supporters to celebrate the awesome work done by students. We fly the top three teams (and an accompanying adult) to Auckland for the awards and a day of great hands-on learning with leading Kiwi entrepreneurs at the SparkLab.

Can I talk to someone about how I could make this work at my school?

Sure! We’d love to talk with you – all our contact details are here.

I’d love my kids to do this programme but it’s not offered at their school.

Our vision is for all young Kiwis is to have the opportunity to be part of L.A.B, and we’d love to work with you to get your local school or a community organisation on board. 21C Skills Lab also plans to run L.A.B as a holiday programme for Auckland, starting in 2019. Sign up to the 21C Skills Lab newsletter and we’ll keep you updated.




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If you have any questions about Like A Boss or about the work of 21C Skills Lab, please email Justine or Faye: