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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 4, individuals should show that they can take a positive attitude to new challenges. 

In earlier steps, individuals built some of the foundations of this step. They have shown they can recognise and take pride in success, as well as knowing when something is too difficult or dangerous for them to attempt.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why new challenges are a good opportunity 
  • How to find opportunities for stretch

Reflection questions

  • Why is it important to be willing to take on new challenges?
  • What would happen if we avoided new challenges?
  • Can you give any examples of when you have learnt from a new challenge?
  • How can you find challenges that work for you?
  • What does it mean to work in your stretch zone?

What you need to know

Finding new challenges

In the previous step, we explore the idea of being successful – that is, being able to achieve success criteria. We saw that it was essential to take pride and enjoy that success.

Over time though, we mustn’t just stick to safe challenges – only doing things where we think that we are very likely to achieve the success criteria. It might feel that we are very successful initially, but eventually we will take less satisfaction from doing the same things over and over again.

The bigger problem is that if we only do the same challenges or activities over and over again we will stop learning.


Learning through challenges

When we first do an activity or use a new skill, we tend not to be very good at it. We find it difficult because we have to think hard about how to do it, and we will often make mistakes. Over time though, we get better at it – it starts to feel more natural and we are more successful. 

This is because we have learnt how to do the task well, and we will be able to do that task again in the future with success. This expands the range of what we can do and means that we can be confident in lots more situations. 

Anything that we have learnt to do in our lives started off being difficult – whether learning to read and write, swim, ride a bicycle, cook, or any number of other skills we have built over time. By working hard at them, and adding those skills to our toolkit, we are much better able to be successful in lots of different situations in the future.


Spotting or creating challenges

Sometimes we will be given challenges to work on – particularly in education where teachers will often think hard about what the next thing to learn is to give the right level of challenge. However, in education, it is still good to push ourselves to try difficult tasks, and outside of education – in the workplace, or our broader lives – we have to take even more responsibility for finding challenges for ourselves. 

In finding or setting ourselves challenges, we need to get the balance right:

  • Too easy, and we will just be doing something that we already know how to do – we might be successful, but we won’t be learning.
  • Too difficult, and we might place ourselves in a situation that is dangerous (see Step 0) or where we have no chance of success, no matter how hard we work at something.

Instead, we need to find our stretch zone. This is the area where the level of challenge is just right – where we have enough support to help us be successful, but not too much to make it easy. In our stretch zone, we should feel like it what we are doing is difficult and needs us to think and work hard – but it should not feel impossible. 

The reward of working in our stretch zone is lots of learning – and therefore being able to get better.


Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should introduce the idea of why it is essential to take on new challenges through a group discussion with learners. 
  • Learners could be asked for examples of things that they found to be difficult when they got started but which they are now able to do because they practised. 
  • The teacher can then introduce the idea of the stretch zone. They could model some examples of where the stretch zone is for them – whether in terms of physical exercise, learning, or a challenge they are doing outside of work. 
  • Learners should then think about some examples of when they felt that they were working in their stretch zone, reflecting on how it felt and what they achieved as a result. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself to reinforcement in the classroom. The teacher can introduce opportunities for learners to take on more stretching challenges if they feel that they can quickly achieve the success criteria for tasks that they have been given. 

Recognition can also be given to learners who are trying out something new and stretching so that they build new knowledge or skill. This is an essential complement to recognising success. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through sustained observation and reflection with learners about whether they seek out new challenges or whether they stay in their comfort zone of only doing things that they know they will be successful at.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who has the opportunity to take on new challenges in the workplace.

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

  • Discuss with the individual why it is essential to take on new challenges.
  • Model the effects of setting ourselves a challenge that is in our stretch zone. A manager might do this by providing an example of a challenge that is in their stretch zone and describing what happened as a result. 
  • Task an individual on an exercise where they interview experienced colleagues for examples of things that they found to be difficult when they got started but which they are now able to do because they practised. This can help the individual to recognise the value of creating challenges.
  • Reflect with the individual about new challenges that they have taken on, and what they have got out of doing so. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When there is an opportunity to take on a new challenge with a focus on doing so with a positive attitude.  
  • Working with customers or clients: when we spot an opportunity to serve a customer in a new way, with a focus on taking on the right level of challenge to give us the best possible chance of success. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing an individual over a prolonged period, to look for evidence of them exploring new challenges at work. Evidence of this step can be found in the individual pursuing challenges which stretch them. 
  • A manager might also assess for this skill step by asking for an individual’s colleagues to provide feedback on how frequently this individual sets themselves challenges in their stretch zone.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Questioning the individual during an interview, asking them to describe a time when they have set themselves a challenge in their stretch zone. Here an observer can look for evidence which suggests the individual correctly identified their stretch zone. An observer might draw on an individual’s reference to look for evidence which supports an individual’s claims.

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


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