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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 14, individuals will show that they are able to take a strategy and break it down into milestones towards achieving an overall objective. 

In the earlier steps, goals and targets have been discussed in the context of making plans. As strategies are often long-term, goals and targets are often insufficient alone. This step focuses on how to create strategic plans that include milestones to plot progress towards the broader objectives.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What the parts of a strategic plan are
  • How to set milestones as part of a strategic plan
  • How to build in the detail of a strategic plan

Reflection questions

  • What are inputs, actions, outputs and outcomes?
  • Why is it helpful to have milestones as part of a strategic plan?
  • How are milestones different to goals and targets? 
  • How do strategies turn into plans? 
  • Have you had any experience of doing this?

What you need to know

The parts of a strategic plan

Once you have carried out the internal and external analysis of your organisation, you should have a clear view of what you want to do (see Step 13).

Normally a strategic plan is about how to create a particular outcome, but there are steps to achieving that outcome. In turn, we need to consider:

  • Inputs: What are the things that you need in order to achieve your plan? These might be resources, but also customers, clients, partners, and team members.
  • Key actions: What are the things that need to happen to the inputs? This might include producing something, running a programme or building something. This is the core activity of your strategy.
  • Outputs: What is produced as a result of your work? That might be the number of products made, or the number of participants in a programme, or the house that you built. 
  • Outcomes: What value has your work created? For instance, perhaps the programme you ran will boost the employability of a certain number of participants or give a home to a family.

Setting milestones

Targets might often be quite long term. However, you probably want to check-in along the way to see whether you are on track to reach your goals.

This is where milestones come in. These are best thought of as markers along the route to achieving a goal – you can use them to see that you are still on the right path, and to make corrections if you are going off that path. 

Milestones are like mini-targets that are carefully placed at the right time to check that you are on track to achieve your overall goals. They might be focused on:

  • Inputs that have been secured: For instance, resources, people’s time, or other tools.
  • Key actions that need to have been completed.
  • Outputs that have been achieved: For instance, the number of people who have taken part in a programme, or the number of goods sold.
  • Outcomes that have been achieved: For example, that a fraction of the overall goal has been achieved.

Over the course of a project, the focus is likely to move through the chain from inputs, to actions, to outputs, to outcomes. 

Milestones at each stage can help to check that you are on track to achieve the overall plan, as well as giving a sense of satisfaction as progress is made.


Going into the detail

While these advanced steps focus on how to create a strategy, the earlier steps are still important to get into the detail. To turn your strategy into reality, the overarching goals and approaches that have been discussed in this step and the previous one still need to become detailed plans. At this point, you still need to draw on:

  • Setting goals, based on what is needed (Step 6).
  • Ordering and prioritising tasks to achieve those goals (Step 7).
  • Securing the resources to complete those tasks (Step 8).
  • Involving others along the way (Step 9).
  • Drawing on your skills and those of others (Step 10).
  • Working towards targets (Step 11).

Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

When working towards a long-term strategy, such a preparing for an exam or assignment, setting progress milestones along the way break up a plan into manageable parts. Milestones can motivate us to keep going and are a useful checkpoint to see if we are on track to meet our goals. You might set markers like completing the reading for that topic, carrying out your own research, drafting the first section, receiving feedback, etc. In education it is common to use each term or semester as a key milestone in the year. It can take a lot of effort and hard work to achieving a long-term goal or strategy, so it is important to recognise and celebrate the success of your milestones along the way.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In a work context, long-term strategies may be more formal and divided into the different steps needed to achieve the given outcome. Outlining the inputs, key actions, outputs and outcomes provides the necessary structure for clear plans to develop and to highlight progress in the process. A large organisation’s strategy may involve working with thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, based in many different locations, over a 5 to 10 year period; using mini-targets and milestones allows those workers in senior positions to oversee progress as a whole and make decisions to keep plans on track.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

It is important to recognise milestones in our life and to celebrate progress and success. While it may be more common to celebrate milestones like birthdays, graduations, anniversaries or new jobs, we can take satisfaction in everyday successes as well. As we learn new skills like cooking, riding a bike or becoming more independent, mini-targets along the way help us to see the progress we are making. Milestones help remind us why we’re making an effort and motivates us to keep going.

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!

  • Take a goal or strategy you are working towards and break it down into smaller milestones. For example, walking at least 10,000 steps a day, eating five fruits and vegetables, getting 8 hours’ sleep or learning 5 new words. Draw up a chart of milestones and track your progress towards each one. Remember to plan mini-rewards for completing them too.
  • Make a friendship milestone plan and organise something to celebrate. You could go out for a meal on the anniversary of when you became friends and then plan a trip away every 5 years.
  • Use a yearly calendar to set mini milestones throughout the year, plan in some treats to celebrate your hard work.

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should start by ensuring that learners are clear on some of the key terminology that is introduced in this step, particularly: inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes and the difference between them. The difference between outputs (stuff that is done) and outcomes (the value of what is done) is often a sticking point. A variety of examples can help bring this to life for learners. 
  • The teacher can then introduce the idea of that as a strategy is a long-term undertaking, we might want to have milestones attached to each of these areas so that we can identify whether we are on track or not, and can make any necessary adjustments. 
  • Learners should be reminded that whilst this step has focused on the top-level strategy, everything they have learnt about developing plans and implementing them is still important to turn their strategies into action. 

Reinforcing it

This skill can be reinforced when learners are thinking about a long-term endeavour, like how to excel in a particular subject over an extended period, or how to get into the college or university of their choice. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed by asking learners to develop a strategic plan, and complete that with inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes and then thinking what might be some milestones along the way. 

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who can develop plans and strategies to achieve long-term goals. 

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

  • Model a strategic plan to help an individual recognise its distinctive features. During the modelling, the manager can explain the key terminology that is introduced in this step, particularly: inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes and the difference between them. 
  • Discuss with the individual why it might be helpful to feature milestones on a strategic plan. To help illustrate the value of milestones, a manager might refer to their model. 
  • Reflect with an individual on their previous experiences of using strategic plans to make them more aware of lessons that can be taken from those experiences. 
  • Task an individual to capture their past experiences of using strategic plans at work on a mind map, noting the instances where they had used milestones and the times they had not. They could use this to reflect with the individual on the effect milestones has on their strategic plans.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When working with others on a long-term endeavour, setting milestones to show progress towards achieving a strategy. 
  • 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 goal.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through observing an individual as they take part in a practical exercise to develop a strategic plan.

  • This could be a training exercise where an individual is given a context and goal and tasked to develop a strategic plan, complete with inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes. 
  • Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual’s inclusion of milestones on their strategic plan.  

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during an assessment exercise where they are tasked to produce a strategic plan complete that with inputs, activities, outputs and outcomes. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual’s inclusion of milestones on their strategic plan.

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.

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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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