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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 11, individuals will show that they can develop plans that include clear targets in them, to support making progress as tangible as possible. 

In the previous step, the focus was on how to create plans informed by your skillset and that of others. This step builds on this, by thinking about how to make plans focused, and to be able to track progress through those plans.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What elements are important in creating a plan
  • How to turn our goals into tangible targets
  • Why getting targets right matters

Reflection questions

  • What are the steps to creating a plan?
  • What is the difference between a goal and a target?
  • Why is it important to take care when setting targets?
  • Have you created plans that include targets?

What you need to know

Creating plans

Creating plans has been a major focus of Aiming High throughout the steps. Before plans can be created, of course, the most vital thing is to know what the purpose or goal of the plan is. 

We can then work back from that goal to think about what needs to happen, how to order and prioritise those tasks, securing the right resources, involving others, and drawing on the skills we need to complete our plan. 

This step builds on this further by asking how we can make progress tangible as we implement our plans.


Setting targets

You are already familiar with goals, and targets are the complement to goal setting. Targets become the tangible measure of whether a goal has been achieved.

For instance, our goal might be to increase the number of young people participating in competitive sport. We might turn this into a target of having a 10% increase in participation over one year. 

As a reminder, targets should always be SMART:

This means that they are:

  • Specific – it is clear precisely what you are trying to do.
  • Measurable – you can measure whether the target has been met or not.
  • Achievable – it is not too hard or too easy.
  • Realistic – it is something that makes sense to do. 
  • Timed – you know when it needs to be done by.

Targets matter

It is important to think carefully about the targets that you set. They will inevitably become a key focus of your efforts, and so you want to make sure that they are really representative of achieving the goal. 

As you develop your targets, there are some key questions to think about:

  • Why is this target important? 
  • Could I achieve the goal without hitting this target? If so, is it really the right target?
  • How does the target achieve the SMART principles?

Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

In education we might create plans for specific subjects, or projects within a subject, and use clear targets to help us see how much progress we are making and to recognise when our goals have been achieved. For example, if my plan is to improve my French marks in my next test by one grade, I could set clear targets around learning 50 pieces of new vocabulary, two new tenses and revising the corrected spelling mistakes from my previous test.

This step is also important when creating longer-term plans for the next steps in education or work. If you have an idea of what you would like to study or do in the future, you can work backwards to map out your plan to achieving that goal; for example, there may be particular subjects, qualifications or work experience needed when you apply.

Sometimes we can set our own targets and at other times teachers may offer their advice and include targets in their feedback. SMART targets make sure the balance is not so easy that we aren’t learning but not so difficult that our goal is impossible to achieve. Following specific targets within a realistic time frame helps keep progress on track as we work towards achieving our plan; checking against them can show us if we need further support from peers or teachers to reach our goals.  

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, relevant targets can be motivating, provide direction and keep work on track over longer periods of time. SMART targets highlight progress and success, and help to inform decisions in the process to achieving a long-term goal. Following clear targets, either at an individual, team ororganisational level, also helps to focus on the aspects of work which are a priority. If we are given unclear or irrelevant targets, it is difficult to know what work needs to be done or what is most important. When SMART targets are achieved, this success can be celebrated and can result in recognition and reward, such as a bonus or promotion.

At work you may be responsible for setting some of your own targets or these may be set for you by a line manager or head of department. Setting clear targets helps everyone contribute to the organisation’s overall plan and mission.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

For anything that we want to achieve or improve in our wider life, setting clear targets will help us to complete our plans. Without the direction of a plan, and an indication of what success looks like, it makes it easier to give up on our plans or to lower our standards. For example, if my plan was to renovate and improve my home, without setting clear targets for what I want it to look like, how much money I have to spend and how long it should take to do, I could easily spend too much, waste time and end up with a home which is worse than it was before. We might also use SMART targets to help us save up for something or to give us a clearer direction with plans, such as aiming to visit 50 countries before you turn 50. SMART targets help motivate us to keep making an effort and show us when we have been successful.

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!

  • Create a plan for your weekend. What would you like to achieve? For example, spending one evening with friends, cleaning my room, doing some exercise and visiting somewhere new. How can you make your targets SMART to help you reach your goals?
  • Think of something you would like to save up for. Create a plan with SMART targets to help you work towards your goal. How long will it take to save up? How much can you save each month?
  • Take an existing plan or target(s) you have. Check to see if the targets are SMART and, where needed, adapt them so that progress is more tangible.
  • Imagine yourself in 1, 5 or 10 years’ time. What does success look like for you? What would you like to achieve? Create a plan with clear targets to help guide you.

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by explaining how targets are an important part of being able to see if we have achieved a goal.
  • The teacher should introduce learners to SMART targets and why each of the components is important. 
  • Learners could then be asked to create their own targets for different scenarios, checking that they have fulfilled each of the SMART elements in turn. Peer assessment could be a useful tool at this point. 
  • Finally, the teacher can lead a discussion of why it is so important to get targets right – this could include sharing some examples of government or other targets, and how they ended up distorting practice to fulfil the target. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced whenever learners are being asked to set targets for themselves or for some aspects of their work. It can also be reinforced whenever learners are exploring relevant topics in business, politics, economics or other subject areas. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by setting learners an exercise – giving them a scenario and asking them to develop SMART targets that support that help to make that goal tangible and measurable.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who can help the team to succeed by making plans to achieve goals.

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

  • Explain to an individual why it is important to include targets in your plans to help see whether you have achieved your goal. 
  • Model how to set SMART targets which support an achievement of a goal. To do this, a manager might present an individual with some imagined goals and discuss what SMART targets might be appropriate. 
  • Reflect with the individual about where they have seen good and bad examples of targeting setting. Here, a manager might refer to a set of targets set by a government department, for example.
  • Task an individual to create their own SMART targets, putting into practice what has been explained to them.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: At the start of a project when deciding how to structure a piece of work, with a focus on creating plans including clear targets to help us achieve team goals.
  • Working with customers or clients: When it is important to build customer confidence in us or our work, with a focus on developing clear plans which show how much progress we have made towards achieving a shared target. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager might discuss with an individual the plans they have set themselves to achieve a goal. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual’s description of SMART targets in their explanation. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they take part in an assessed exercise. This exercise could provide the individual with a scenario and ask them to develop SMART targets that support that help to make that goal tangible and measurable. 
  • Questioning the individual about when they have been responsible for setting targets to achieve goals in the past.

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

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