Explore Framework
News & Blog


The receiving, retaining and processing of information or ideas
This skill is all about being able to effectively receive information - whether it comes from customers, colleagues or stakeholders.

Initially, the skill steps concentrate on being able to listen effectively to others - including remembering short instructions, understanding why others are communication and recording important information.

Individuals then focus on how they demonstrate that they are listening effectively, thinking about body language, open questioning and summarising and rephrasing.

Beyond that, the focus is on being aware of how they might be being influenced by a speaker, through tone and language.

The final steps are about critical listening - comparing perspectives, identifying biases, evaluating ideas and being objective.


The oral transmission of information or ideas
This skill is all about how to communicate effectively with others, being mindful of whether they are talking to customers, colleagues or other stakeholders and in different settings.

Initially, this skill focuses on being able to speak clearly - first with well known individuals and small groups and then with those who are not known.

The next stage is about being an effective speaker by making points logically, by thinking about what listeners already know and using appropriate language, tone and gesture.

Beyond that, individuals focus on speaking engagingly through use of facts and examples, visual aids, and their expression and gesture.

Beyond that stage, speakers will be adaptive to the response of their listeners and ready for different scenarios. The final steps focus on speaking influentially - using structure, examples, facts and vision to persuade listeners.

Problem Solving

The ability to find a solution to a situation or challenge
This skill focuses on how to solve problems, recognising that while part of Problem Solving is technical know-how and experience, there are also transferable tools that individuals can develop and use.

The first steps focus on being able to follow instructions to complete tasks, seeking help and extra information if needed. The next stage focuses on being able to explore problems by creating and assessing different potential solutions. This includes more complex problems, without a simple technical solution.

Beyond this, the focus is on exploring complex solutions - thinking about causes and effects, generating options, and evaluating those options. This extends into analysis using logical reasoning and hypotheses.

Finally, individuals implement strategic plans to solve complex problems, assess their success, and draw out learning for the future.


The use of imagination and the generation of new ideas
Creativity is the complement to Problem Solving, and is about generating innovations or ideas which can then be honed through the problem-solving process.

The first few steps focus on the individual's confidence in imagining different situations and sharing their ideas.

The focus is then on generating ideas - using a clear brief, making improvements to something that already exists and combining concepts.

Individuals then apply creativity in the context of their work and their wider life. They can build off this to develop ideas using tools like mind mapping, questioning, and considering different perspectives.

The most advanced steps focus on building effective innovation in group settings and by seeking out varied experiences and stimuli. Finally, individuals support others to innovate, by sharing tools, identifying the right tools for the situation and through coaching.

Staying Positive

The ability to use tactics and strategies to overcome setbacks and achieve goals
This skill is all about individuals being equipped to manage their emotions effectively and being able to remain motivated, and ultimately to motivate others, even when facing setbacks.

The early steps focus on identifying emotions - particularly feeling positive or negative. Building off that is the ability to keep trying - and then staying calm, thinking about what went wrong, and trying to cheer up and encourage others.

The focus then turns to identifying new opportunities in difficult situations, sharing those, and adapting or creating plans accordingly. At more advanced steps, individuals identify and manage risks and gains in opportunities.

Finally, individuals support others to stay positive by managing their own response, helping others to see opportunities and creating plans to achieve them.

Aiming High

The ability to set clear, tangible goals and devise a robust route to achieving them
This skill is about being able to plan effectively - both to achieve organisational goals, and also to set their own personal development targets. Initially, this is about knowing when something is too difficult, and having a sense of what doing well looks like for an individual.

The focus is then about working with care and attention, taking pride in success and having a positive approach to new challenges. Building on this, individuals set goals for themselves, informed by an understanding of what is needed, and then be able to order and prioritise tasks, secure resources and involve others effectively.

At the higher steps, the focus is creating plans informed by an individual's skill set, with clear targets, and building on external views. At the most advanced level, individuals develop long-term strategies. These are informed by an assessment of internal and external factors, structured through regular milestones and feedback loops.


Supporting, encouraging and developing others to achieve a shared goal
This skill is relevant not only for individuals in positions of management with formal power, but also for individuals working with peers in teams.

At the earliest stages, the focus is on basic empathy - understanding their own feelings, being able to share them, and recognising the feelings of others. The focus is on managing - dividing up tasks, managing time and sharing resources, managing group discussions and dealing with disagreements.

Beyond that, individuals build their awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their teams. This allows them to allocate tasks effectively. They then build techniques to mentor, coach and motivate others. At the highest steps, individuals will be able to reflect on their own leadership style and understand its effect on others.

Ultimately, they should be able to build on their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses, and adapt their leadership style to the situation.


Working cooperatively with others towards achieving a shared goal
This skill applies to working within both formal and informal teams, and also with customers, clients or other stakeholders. Initially, this is about individuals fulfilling expectations around being positive, behaving appropriately, being timely and reliable and taking responsibility. This extends to understanding and respecting diversity of others' cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.

The next steps focus on making a contribution to a team through group decision making recognising the value of others' ideas and encourage others to contribute too.Beyond that, individuals improve their teams through managing conflict and building relationships beyond the immediate team. At the top steps, individuals focus on how they influence their team through suggesting improvements and learning lessons from setbacks.

Ultimately, individuals support the team by evaluating others strengths and weaknesses and bringing in external expertise and relationships.

To achieve Step 0, individuals will be able to identify when they are finding something too difficult. 

This is the first step in Aiming High, and the focus is first on individuals recognising the limits of what they can do.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to know when something is too difficult
  • What to do if something is too difficult

Reflection questions

  • How do you know if something is too difficult for you?
  • Why might something be too difficult? 
  • Why is it important to think about the safety of what you are trying to do?
  • What do we mean by danger?
  • Why is it important to think about danger?

What you need to know

Why might we find something difficult?

When we first do things, we might find them difficult. This is a normal part of learning to do something, and over time it will get easier as we get better.

However, sometimes we might be in a situation where we find something too difficult to do. We might find something too difficult for different reasons:

  • We do not have the knowledge to be able to complete something.
  • We have never done something before, and don’t know what we need to do.
  • We are not sure what needs to be done.
  • We see that something is dangerous.

How might we feel when we find something difficult?

We might know that something is too difficult if we cannot work out what to do next, or how to do it, or we cannot answer something. When something is too difficult, we might also feel some negative emotions. For example, we might feel sad, disappointed, angry or scared. 

Thinking about how to manage these emotions is important, and we explore this in Staying Positive. It is important that if something is too difficult, then we don’t just keep going because that might place us in danger.


What to do if something is difficult: non-threatening situations

It is important to think about the danger that is present in a situation to know whether it is something that we should keep trying at, or whether we should not because it is too dangerous:

If something is not dangerous, then it might be worth trying again, and persisting in case we can work it out by ourselves. We might be able to find something out or ask someone to help us.


What to do if something is difficult: dangerous situations

If something is dangerous, then we absolutely should not attempt it if we do not feel completely confident that we know what we are doing. For example, if we are doing anything that needs expertise, qualifications or training that we do not have.

If something is dangerous or feels dangerous, then we should never attempt to do it ourselves.

In this case, we should ask someone who has higher expertise to help us, or a qualified person if required (for example, for repairs or anything involving gas, electricity or water). If that person isn’t available, then we should stop and wait, or come back to it later.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

In education, we learn new things. Often, it can be more difficult at the start and we may find ourselves feeling frustrated. If we find ourselves in a situation where something is too difficult, like learning how to use a new piece of equipment or starting a new subject, we may need to find out more about what needs to be done from a peer or teacher. Knowing our limits helps us to take a positive approach to overcome them and learn something new; we can’t always do everything perfectly.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Workplaces are made up of people with a wide range of skills and knowledge, as well as different tools and resources. If you realise that something is too difficult and is stopping you from carrying on with your work, it is important to recognise this and make use of what is available to help you. It might be as simple as asking a colleague to show you or sharing a handy shortcut. Everybody has different strengths and these are opportunities for you to develop.  

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Trying out new things and taking on challenges helps us to find out what we enjoy; it might lead us to discover new hobbies, interests and friendships. However, we also have to be careful if we realise something is too dangerous. For example, if we find a leak at home or a car needs fixing, and we don’t have the right qualifications, expertise or training, we should call an expert.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Aiming High, apply what you have learnt to a real-life situation. Choose one or more of the activities below, remind yourself of the key points and strategies in the step, and have a go!

  • Play a new game and see what level you can reach before it becomes too difficult.
  • Try out a new exercise routine or running route to find the right level of difficulty. You might want to keep a record of your times so you can keep trying and see your improvements.
  • Think about some examples where danger means that something is too difficult to try to do yourself.

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should highlight that new things often feel difficult, and ask for learners for examples of things that they have found difficult initially and then been able to get better at and find less challenging. The teacher could model this with some cases from their own life.
  • The teacher could also structure a conversation about how learners feel when they find something too complicated, and how to manage those emotions (drawing on Staying Positive)
  • The critical point to emphasise is that when something is difficult, it can be useful to persist and keep trying but only if what learners are attempting is not dangerous. If it is dangerous, then learners must stop and seek expert help. 
  • The teacher can capture some ideas of things that might be too dangerous to attempt and who they should ask for help – usually a responsible adult. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in the classroom context, where learners can be asked to identify whether they are struggling with something that they will be able to get better at with practice, or whether it is too complicated and they need to help. Any dangerous situations should be highlighted so that learners understand the limits of what they can sensibly do.

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through discussion or through a reflective exercise where learners are given different scenarios and asked to consider whether the situation is one where they should continue to persist or whether they should stop because there is danger.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone completing tasks at work. 

To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Explain some of the reasons why a situation may feel difficult.
  • Model what to do if something is too difficult. Here a manager might show a process an individual can follow to help them decide what to do using when in this situation. Critically, the modelling should emphasise that when something is difficult it can be useful to persist and keep trying but only if what an individual is attempting is not dangerous. If it is dangerous, then an individual must stop and seek expert help. 
  • Task an individual to shadow colleagues, who have experience of identifying dangerous situations in the workplace. 
  • Reflect with the individual about a dangerous situation they’ve been in (inside the workplace and outside), how they reacted and what they would and wouldn’t do if faced with a similar situation again in future.

Practising it:

There are plenty of opportunities for building this skill in the workplace:

  • Working with colleagues: When there is opportunity to stop and think about why we are finding it hard to complete tasks.
  • Working with customers or clients: When thinking about how to complete tasks for the customer or client. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through discussion. For instance:

  • Here a manager might discuss what an individual would do if facing difficulty in different situations including ones where it would be dangerous for an individual to persist. Evidence of this skill step is found in the individual correctly identifying the situations where they should and should not persist.
  • This might also be observable, to see whether the individual can identify situations where it is not safe to continue. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step could be assessed by:

  • Interviewing an individual to check they know what to do if they find something too difficult. Here an interviewer can find out how an individual has reacted to difficult situations in the past and ask follow up questions which ask if the individual would do anything different in future.

Build this step

Advice for


We work with a wide range of organisations, who use the Skills Builder approach in lots of different settings – from youth clubs, to STEM organisations, to careers and employability providers.

We have a lot of materials available to support you to use the Skills Builder Universal Framework with the individuals you work with, including:

  • Tools for self-reflection
  • Materials to support you to teach the skills, if appropriate in your setting
  • Reward systems like printable certificates

We also do a lot of work with organisations who join the Skills Builder Partnership to build the Universal Framework into their work and impact measurement systems. You can find out a lot more using the links below.

More resources

Advice for

Parents & Carers

At home, you can easily support your child to build their essential skills. The good news is that there
are lots of ways that you can have a big impact, including:

  • Talking with your child about the essential skills, what they are and how they are useful in all
    aspects of life, whether at school, home or in the workplace
  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own work or wider life
  • Helping your child to identify where they already build their skills at school, at home or
    through other activities and clubs
  • Praising your child when they show they are using the skills well, and helping them to feel a
    sense of achievement
  • Encouraging them to recognise and talk confidently about their skill strengths with others, and
    supporting them to develop their skills further

More resources