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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 5, individuals will show that they can set goals for themselves. 

Earlier steps focused on building up to this by introducing the notion of what success looks like through success criteria, then the importance of both taking pride in that success but also the importance of seeking out new challenges to support learning. This step combines those elements by introducing the setting of goals.

In the context of the classroom, learners should be able to:

  • Set themselves goals that are based on their stretch zones
  • Be clear about how they will know if a goal has been achieved

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to set goals in a stretch zone 
  • How to know if a goal has been achieved

Reflection questions

  • What is a goal? 
  • How can we set goals in our stretch zone? 
  • Can you give examples of when you’ve done this? 
  • How can you tell if a goal has been achieved?
  • How do goals and success criteria fit together?
  • Why can numbers help you measure a goal?

What you need to know

What is a goal?

A goal is something that we want to happen, and that we will work towards achieving. 

We might set goals in lots of different areas of our lives. For example, we might decide that we want to learn a new language, score more goals for our football team, or pass an examination.


Different types of goals

There are different types of goals that we might set ourselves:

  • Short term goals: These are things that we can achieve quite quickly – for example, in a day or a few hours. These might be things like learning some new vocabulary, mending something, or baking a cake. 
  • Mid-term goals: These are longer goals – perhaps they take a few days, a week or even a month. For example, we might want to improve our fitness or our accuracy at scoring in basketball. Mid-term goals take sustained effort to achieve.
  • Long-term goals: These are goals that might take a lot longer to achieve – for example, that might be a promotion in work, achieving a particular qualification or something in our personal lives. These are goals that we need to work at for a longer time period and which it might be hard to see progress on day-to-day.

All three of these different types of goals are important, but we need to think about them differently. For mid-term and long-term goals, we also have to think about breaking these into smaller goals to keep us motivated to keep trying.


Setting goals in a stretch zone

When we set ourselves goals, it is vital to think about whether they are goals in our stretch zone. We explored this in the previous step, but you know if a goal is in your stretch zone if it is:

  • Not so easy that you are sure that you will achieve it.
  • Not so difficult as to make it dangerous or impossible to achieve.

Setting goals in your stretch zone give you the best chance of being successful and learning a lot along the way.


Knowing if a goal is achieved

We have already come across success criteria. A goal sets out what we are trying to achieve, while the success criteria will be our measures of whether we have achieved it or not. Therefore the two should work together.

For example, you might set a goal of learning a new language. This could be a great long-term goal, but difficult to know whether you are being successful. So, you could break this goal down into shorter-term goals – like being able to learn some important vocabulary, conjugate verbs in the present tense, and have a short conversation.


SMART targets

Even then, if is helpful to start setting clearer targets. The best targets are those that are SMART. This means that they are:

  • Specific – it is clear exactly what you are trying to do.
  • Measurable – you can measure whether the target has been met or not.
  • Achievable – it is in your stretch zone – 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. 

For example, you could create a target towards learning a language as ‘being able to accurately write 50 important words in the language from memory in two weeks’ time’. 

Putting numbers and deadlines on goals is particularly helpful because it means we can see exactly what success looks like and also see very clearly whether we have been successful.


Advice for


Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can introduce goals and why we have them. The teacher can model some goals that they have in their own lives and why they find having goals helpful and motivating.
  • The teacher can explain the difference between short-, mid-, and long-term goals and how it is crucial to have a combination of these. Learners could give examples of some of these types of goals for themselves, or a hypothetical example could be broken down together. 
  • The teacher can then introduce the idea of SMART targets, and why having targets with numbers attached can be helpful.
  • Learners can be encouraged to think about setting goals for themselves – perhaps in the context of their learning – and to turn them into SMART targets.

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself well to being reinforced in learning. For example, learners could be encouraged to take responsibility for coming up with their own learning goals and the measures of whether they have been successful – or perhaps in collaboration with a teacher. Learners should review whether they have been successful and to reflect on their progress using these targets over time. 

Assessing it 

This step can be assessed through an exercise where learners have to create a series of short-, mid- and long-term targets for themselves and turn these into SMART targets. They could alternatively do this by being given a broad goal and having to think about how this can be turned in to SMART targets.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who can help themselves succeed by attempting new, stretching challenges.

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

  • Explain the difference between short-, mid-, and long-term goals and why it is important to set a combination of these. To support this explanation, the manager might model some team goals which are currently in play and describe their motivating effects.
  • Model how to write a SMART target to show an individual how these can be helpful. During this demonstration, a manager could compare a SMART target against a non-SMART target to show the value of setting targets with numbers attached.
  • Task an individual to write a SMART target to help them achieve a goal, following the example that a manager has set.
  • Reflect with the individual about where they have seen SMART targets used to good effect in the workplace. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When collaborating with others to achieve a short-, mid- or long-term goal, with a focus on writing SMART goals to keep everyone motivated.
  • Working with customers or clients: When taking on a responsibility of achieving a result that benefits the customer, with a focus on using success criteria to help us understand what this looks like.

Reviewing it:

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

  • A manager might have a reflective conversation with an individual to identify how well they can set themselves a short, mid and long-term goal. During this conversation a manager might also ask questions to uncover if an individual can effectively set themselves SMART targets which help to achieve these goals. 
  • Over the longer-term, it is even better to see whether the individual is able to set SMART targets that are appropriate to their stretch zone. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Interviewing an individual and asking them to describe a time when they have set themselves a goal. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the individual showing an awareness of the difference between short-, mid- and long term goals and the value of making their goals clear, through using techniques such as making them SMART. 

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