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Listening

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.

Speaking

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.

Creativity

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.

Leadership

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.

Teamwork

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 13, individuals will show that they can develop long-term strategies which are grounded in their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats. 

In earlier steps, the focus has been on developing plans, which are informed by the goals that are set, the resources available and refined through a review of the skills needed, and external input. This step and those that follow focus now on long-term strategies and how they can be developed.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is a long-term strategy
  • Why we have to take an internal and external view when building strategies
  • How to build an internal picture through strengths and weaknesses
  • How to take an external view on opportunities and threats

Reflection questions

  • What is the difference between a plan and a long-term strategy?
  • Why is it important that a strategy is informed by both an internal and external view?
  • What are strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are opportunities and threats?
  • How do we build these insights into our strategy?

What you need to know

The long-term strategy

A strategy is a long-term plan designed to achieve an overarching goal. The shift from the plans we have been focused on so far, is that they are often much longer-term and can be much more expansive than a simple project.

For instance, organisations will almost always have a strategy for the organisation that might last between 3-5 years on average – although many are revised before they reach their planned end. 

Because a strategy lasts longer, it often has to deal with greater levels of uncertainty. The strategy might not specify all the detail of exactly how everything is going to be done, but instead sets the broad, overarching goals of the organisation.

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The basis of strategy

Strategy and strategic management is an area where there is considerable specialist and technical knowledge and skill. There are a wide variety of different strategic tools available to specialists, as well as technical project management and planning tools. 

The purpose of this step is not to try to replicate all of that, but instead to draw out a couple of tools which will be invaluable for everyone trying to get better at aiming high. A core tool here is the SWOT analysis.

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Strengths and weaknesses

When we think about a strategy, and what we want to achieve over a sustained period, we should think about ourselves first. This is called taking the internal view. That might be for ourselves as individuals if we are creating a strategy for our own lives, or it might be our team or even the whole organisation, depending on the scope. 

We think about this internal view from two perspectives:

  • What strengths do we have? These might include our experiences, our skills, our attitudes or knowledge and assets that we have. We can also think about this at an organisational level, when we think about organisational strengths or capabilities. 
  • What weaknesses do we want to avoid? These might be gaps in any of the areas that we have already talked about. Of course, these are not necessarily fixed, but in a competitive environment, it might not be feasible to address all of the weaknesses.   

The internal view is important so that we draw on what we can do well, and avoid developing a strategy that is dependent on us doing things that we are not very good at. In a competitive environment, it is particularly important to play to our strengths.

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Opportunities and threats

However, it is also important to think about the wider environment when developing our strategy. None of us can simply do what we want to in isolation. This is called taking the external view. That might include the sector we are in, and those we might consider our competitors.  

This external view takes two perspectives:

  • What are the opportunities – those chances or changes that might be positive for us. These might come from new technology, more resources becoming available or the chance to do something new. 
  • What are the threats – that is, those things that might go wrong, risks that we face, events that might unfold, or the actions of competitors.
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PEST analysis

As we think about our strategies we want to ensure that we are positioned to make the most of any opportunities that arise, whilst avoiding the threats. 

Another helpful tool for considering the environment is the PEST analysis, which looks at factors which might also impact a strategy:

  • Political 
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Technology
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Advice for

Educators

Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by being clear in their definition of the difference between the plans that have been a main focus up to this step, and a long-term strategy. Some examples could be introduced to help to illustrate this difference. 
  • The teacher can then introduce the idea of analysis as the bedrock of a good strategy, which has to combine the internal perspective with an external perspective.
  • Learners should apply this by completing a SWOT analysis. The focus of this is up to the teacher – it could be on the individual themselves in the context of their future plans or studies. Alternatively, it could be focused on a social action project or project within the school. Finally, it could be a case study related to a subject they are studying or another scenario. 
  • Learners can then share and discuss these scenarios with each other and compare the SWOT analyses that they carried out. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced when considering topics in different subject learning, or as learners develop their own plans for themselves over time. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by asking learners to complete a SWOT analysis based on a case study. The teacher should look to see that they demonstrate an understanding of the dimensions being considered, and that they can make a reasonable recommendation off the back of that analysis.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who develop plans and strategies to achieve goals. 

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

  • Discuss with the individual the differences between plans and a long-term strategy.  To do this a manager might show how team plans (ones which are deliberately short in length) differ from the company’s long-term strategy.
  • Explain to an individual the role analysis plays in developing a good strategy. Here a manager can make the point that this analysis should combine the internal perspective with an external perspective.
  • Model the use of a SWOT analysis to help an individual understand how this can be useful in helping to consider both internal and external perspective. The focus of this SWOT analysis is up to the manager, but it would be good to use an example that the individual can easily relate to - for example, a new project.
  • Task an individual on an exercise to perform their own SWOT analysis. Again, the manager can set the focus of this analysis. For example, the manager might task an individual to perform a SWOT analysis on the work of their team. 
  • Reflect with the individual about the usefulness of developing longer-term strategies and identify opportunities they may take to develop them. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When the focus is on creating long-term strategies, rather than day-to-day problem solving or planning.  
  • Working with customers or clients: When forecasting future scenarios to identify future needs our customers might have, with a focus on using tools to support our analysis and strategy to meet those needs.

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager can set up a planning exercise which tasks an individual to perform a SWOT analysis – such as on a proposition to develop a long-term project or launch a new product. During the planning exercise, the observer can watch the individual’s performance. Evidence of this skill step can be seen in the individual considering the key dimensions and making reasonable recommendations as a result.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning an individual during an interview. Here an interviewer might ask the individual to describe a time when they have established a strategic plan and talk them through the process they went through. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the existence of a clear link between a careful analysis and long-term strategy.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

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

Individuals

As an individual, you might be thinking about how best to support your own essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Looking at the Universal Framework to spot skill steps that you think you need to work on. It is normally best to start from the lowest step that you don’t feel confident on, and go from there.
  • Keeping a record of the skill steps that you want to work on, and writing down when you practice them, and when you feel you are making progress.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what you are trying to do – whether a teacher, family member, manager or a peer. They can help give you feedback on how you are doing, and celebrate your progress with you.

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help you to build these skills, including:

  • Short activities that you can use to build the essential skills
  • Regular challenges to put those skills into action
  • Ways to record and capture your essential skills, so you can see progress and talk to other people about how you are getting on

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step