P-12 Essential Skills

Overhead Shot Of students In Group Study with text reading: "p-12 essential skills"


Director, Workforce Development

The Business Council and its member companies have long supported education issues important to college and career readiness, including increasing access and equity in advanced courses, computer science for all initiatives, increased math and science education, as well as maintaining high academic standards. These are issues we continue to support as they are crucial to preparing students for life after high school. Equally important to the foundation of strong academic standards are “essential skills.”

In the past decade, businesses have struggled to find skilled talent. At the same time, the workforce system has been frustrated with industry responses about skills needed to train, as feedback often consists of “the basics of showing up on time, with a good attitude, the ability to communicate and work well with others, and to persist in problem-solving challenges.” The workforce system has not been funded or prepared to address these skills. However, the need for these “essential skills” was again reiterated in the results of The Business Council’s spring 2021 Business Workforce Survey

The top three “non-technical skills” that were lacking in job candidates were 1) communication skills, 2) self-motivation, and 3) problem-solving/critical thinking – all with over 60 percent of businesses saying these crucial skills were lacking amongst applicants. The top three “technical skills” were 1) basic computer use/computer literacy, 2) software proficiency in Excel, and 3) software proficiency in Word. 

The unrelenting demand for these skills provides an opportunity with the New York State Education Department’s (NYSED) interest in ensuring that schools are educating the “whole” student. Because we live in a world where the technology-driven economy is constantly evolving, The Business Council and member business and associations request the Department’s consideration of using these “Essential Skills” as foundational to p-12 education, not just for college and career readiness, but to ensure that students have the life skills to succeed and thrive in an ever-changing global economy. 

Across the state, there are great examples of these skills being taught in select programs, but they are not universally accessible to all students, creating an equity disparity that varies from school to school. The Department has the opportunity to uplift and scale the successful curriculum found in these schools, so all students have equal access to these crucial life skills which also build social and emotional intelligence.


Beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, every school shall provide an essential skills program that teaches skills and characteristics critical to student success in college, career, and life to each student kindergarten through grade twelve (12). Each student shall have attained essential skills in order to graduate. The essential skills program shall include but not be limited to instruction on:

  1. Working Well With Others – Including effective communication skills; respect for different points of view and diversity of team members; the ability to cooperate and collaborate with diverse stakeholders; and the ability to approach conflict management with a problem-solving lens so all parties are respectfully understood. 
  2. Personal Leadership – Including the ability to take initiative or appropriate action when needed without waiting for direct instruction; the ability to self-motivate and see a task through to completion; the ability to provide appropriate leadership to or support for colleagues or teammates; the ability to hold oneself personally accountable and take constructive criticism; the ability to model responsible, ethical behavior and self-control.
  3. Adaptability – Including an openness to learning with a focus on problem solving, critical thinking, embracing new ways of doing things, and creatively innovating change.
  4. Information Technology (IT) Literacy – Including basic computer literacy, a knowledge of ubiquitous software programs, and exposure to programming languages. 
  5. Accountability – Including the ability to effectively manage time, be organized, and prioritize tasks with attention to detail

Metrics and Measurability

BOCES Employability Profile and Rubric 

BOCES programs have an “Employability Profile” and rubric that has a scale for rating many of these skills and more including work ethic and professionalism, interpersonal skills, teamwork, response to supervision, problem solving, time management, general workplace technology skills, technical language skills – oral, and technical language skills – reading and writing. We would encourage NYSED to leverage the expertise of educators across the state who are experienced in teaching and grading adoption of these skills to develop educational guidelines and standards that can be used in other classrooms. 

Essential Skills Currently Being Taught in New York

Hillside Work Scholarship Connection 

The Hillside Work Scholarship Connection (HWSC) has long understood the value of these essential skills in preparing students for college and career. Not only that, but they have successfully taught these skills to some of New York’s most underserved youth. Their Youth Employment Training Academy (YETA) covers these valuable skills and much more including communication, problem solving, decision making, diffusing negative situations, teamwork, working with diverse groups, organization, and time management. As a result, they have a 99 percent graduation rate for their YETA-Certified students in Rochester, NY a 100 percent in both Syracuse, NY and Prince George’s County, MD. 

Their program has also received countless national recognition including, but not limited to, being spotlighted in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Success at Every Step: How 23 Programs Support Youth on the Path to College and Beyond and being named to the Social Impact Exchange S&I 100 index of top nonprofits and have accreditation from the Standards for Excellence Institute for high standards of ethics and accountability. They have also received numerous accolades for their work from the business community, including: 

  • Recognition from the National Center on Education and the Economy
  • Points of Light Award from American Business Press
  • PEPNet Award from the National Youth Employment Coalition Best Practice
  • Partner of the Year Quality Award from the Partners for Education and Business, Inc.

Hillside continues to lead in this work because they know this is the type of education that can truly set youth on a successful path. 

University of Rochester Partnership at East High School

The restorative justice practices adopted at East High School in Rochester are an exemplary model for schools to use in teaching conflict management and communication. While these practices were adopted to address high rates of suspension in the school, their lessons can be universal. 

East was able to hire counselors and social workers to implement restorative practices at the school such as training for every staff member, including custodians, clerical workers, and security officers.

The shift has been a welcome one for students. “Basically, suspensions were the go-to response to any kind of discipline problem,” said Savannah, who attended East before the change. “I personally notice the difference, that there are a lot fewer suspensions. Instead, we talk about our problems, and what’s causing our feelings.”

As a widely recognized leader in this space, they have a website which shares the research and resources for restorative practices, which as was noted are also excellent ways to not only teach communication and conflict management skills, but to put them into effective use (https://www.rochester.edu/warner/cues/restorative-practices/). 

P-TECH & Corning Inc. 

Corning Incorporated recently hired a local P-TECH graduate who has quickly adjusted to his new work conditions, and so well that he has had two opportunities to change positions in less than a year. Skyler commented on how his P-TECH experience prepared him for the workforce, “We had this class called Professional Skills. Most of it was talking to other people. I really thought this class wasn’t going to help me that much. Now coming into the workplace and realizing talking to people is your most important skill, it’s like Wow! They know what they’re doing!” He was able to build and hone his communications skills effectively and put them to work immediately in his new career with Corning. This not only serves Corning to have a team member skillful in effective communication but will serve Skyler throughout his career. 

“We’ve now hired our fourth student from the first cohort of graduates from our regional P-TECH. Not only are they technically skilled and prepared, but their ability to integrate into our working environment and culture is exceptional. They arrive with robust team skills, understand how to effectively communicate, and manage their time and priorities – sometimes better than our BS and MBA new hires!” said Christine Sharkey, President, Community Engagement, Corning Incorporated.

These examples are just a few of many great programs teaching these essential skills. While this list is not exhaustive, programs like these do not begin to reach all students across the state. They were not intended to, thereby leaving the vast majority of students in New York schools without access to these skills crucial for a strong social and emotional intelligence. We hope the State Education Department and the Board of Regents gives consideration to imbedding these essential skills throughout p-12 education in New York State. 

If you have other “best practices” in teaching essential skills to students you would like to spotlight for the Board of Regents, please fill out the form below.
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