The Essential Skills: Building Blocks of College and Career Readiness

Over its 30-year history, CFES (College for Every Student)' most successful Scholars—those who graduated from college on time and secured wellpaying jobs that moved them and their families out of poverty—were not those with the highest test scores or the best grades, but those who possessed the CFES Essential Skills™: Goal setting, teamwork, leadership, networking, perseverance, and agility. This chapter shows why CFES has identified these skills as critical and how we work with schools and communities to help students cultivate them.

Not Soft, Essential

At CFES, we recognize the foundational importance of these competencies. While many call these skills "soft" or "noncognitive," we dislike those terms. Calling them "soft" or "noncognitive" diminishes their value and gives them second-class status at a time when these traits are becoming more valuable than ever before. In 2015, CFES formally named these competencies as the Essential Skills.

That year, the Essential Skills became our third practice, replacing Leadership through Service. Our own research helped us understand that our CFES Scholars needed more competencies than leadership and that service—making your school and community a better place—needed to be and could be imbued in peer mentoring, sharing college pathway knowledge and other activities.

Essential Skills: A Trademark for Our Vision

Because of the value we place on these specific skills and their unique prominence in our model, CFES trademarked the term "Essential Skills" shortly thereafter. The trademark signifies that the term is the intellectual property of CFES. More importantly, it makes a statement about the value we place on the Essential Skills.

In addition, a growing number of educators and business leaders are starting to share our views on these critical skills. For instance, a few years ago, Allen Morrison, professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, delivered some startling information to a group of corporate and educational leaders. "As knowledge and information have become commodities," he said, "they've come to take a back seat in the job market to applicants' networking ability and agility in developing new skills."

Joseph Fuller, professor at the Harvard Business School and an authority on America's competitiveness, offered a similar message: More than anything else, he said, businesses want employees with workforce readiness skills, such as teamwork and perseverance.

Morrison from Thunderbird warned that the workforce of tomorrow won't be the one we want and need unless we take action now. Helping students master the Essential Skills is a critical component of building that workforce, and we all need to develop the tools to achieve that.

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