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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 0, individuals will have to be able to imagine different situations.

This is the first step in Creativity – the ability to imagine things that do not currently exist. It provides the foundation for everything that follows.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is imagination
  • How do we use imagination

Reflection questions

  • What does imagination mean?
  • Why do you think imagination is useful?
  • When do you use your imagination? 
  • Can you give examples?

What you need to know

What is imagination?

Using your imagination is about being able to think about something and being able to see it in your head. You might imagine an event that hasn’t happened, something that is impossible, or a place that doesn’t exist.


When might we use imagination?

Sometimes we use imagination by ourselves, and what we imagine is only in our heads. At other times, we use our imagination with other people – for example, we talk or act things out together. 

As you get better at using your imagination, you might be able to explain what you imagine in a way that someone else can understand. You might also be able to act out or draw what you are imagining. For now, just focus on whether you can imagine things in your head.


How do we use imagination?

Our imagination is crucial because it allows us to think about new ideas and to go beyond what exists today.

Everything in the world started in somebody’s imagination – it didn’t exist yet, but someone thought that it might be a good idea, and they used what they imagined to make it.


When might our imagination be most active?

We might use our imagination at lots of different times, but normally our mind has to be relaxed and not trying to think about other things. 

Some of us find that we use our imagination best when we’re with other people, and some of us find it easiest to use our imaginations alone.


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Why this skill step matters in education

Creativity is a skill which can be used in all subject areas. It is about generating ideas, and then you can pick the best ones solve a problem. Being able to use our imagination helps all parts of learning. It helps us to see other views and explore new ideas. If we can imagine different situations, we go beyond our current setting – whether understanding the past, building our knowledge of the present or thinking about the future.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, we often have to imagine things that are not in front of us. That might be because it is a situation that we haven’t come across yet that we need to learn about, or because we are developing new ideas. When we work with customers or other colleagues, we often have to imagine what they are experiencing so that we understand their point of view.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Using our creativity and imagination helps us to express ourselves. The freedom of using imagination can help our learning and curiosity. Some people find it reduces stress and anxiety to be able to imagine different scenarios and explore feelings. If we can imagine being in the situation of others then this supports our ability to understand how other people are feeling. Being able to imagine things that don’t already exist is the first step towards being able to make plans for the future too.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Creativity, 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!

  • Imagine yourself to be in the situation of someone you have heard about in the news or a character from a film, series or book. How would they feel? What might they do next?
  • Think of an important event you have coming up,this could be an exam, match, performance or interview. Imagine you are getting ready on the day. How do you feel? What do you need to prepare? What do you see? What might you say or do? After you have imagined this scenario, is there anything you could do differently now to help you prepare?
  • Imagine yourself in 6 months’ time, what are you doing? Now picture yourself in 2 years’ time, what has changed? Finally, imagine yourself 5 years from now, what do you see?
  • When you see a picture of a new place or activity, imagine yourself in that situation. What might you feel, hear or smell there? Would you like to go there? Why/why not?
  • Using an image, word or piece of music as a prompt, close your eyes and let your mind wander. What are you imagining?  

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

The teacher can ask learners what they think imagination is, and where they have used imagination. Do they enjoy using their imaginations?

The teacher can model how to imagine an object or creature. For example:

  • Model how to imagine an object or creature: “Let’s use our imagination. Can you close your eyes and imagine you are looking at a dog? What colour is it? How big is it? Can you stroke it? Is it friendly or snappy? We’re pretending there’s a dog, but there isn’t one really.”
  • Model how we can imagine a familiar setting. “Now let’s use our imagination to pretend we’re at the seaside. Close your eyes and imagine you are stood on a beach by the sea. What can you see? What can you hear?”

Explain how we can use imagination to pretend to be someone or somewhere else, and that this is called role-play. “Imagine you are paddling in the sea, let’s pretend to take off our shoes. Can you pretend to splash about in the sea?”

To encourage learners to use their imaginations, the teacher could provide a stimulus for imaginative role-play by introducing dressing up costumes or props from familiar settings. Model how learners might use the props and encourage learners to join in with imaginative role-play.

Learners could also play ‘Let’s Pretend’ where someone pretends to be an animal, and the others have to guess what animal they are trying to be. 

Reinforcing it

There are several ways to reinforce this step across other learning. For example:

  • When reading, stop to ask learners to use their imaginations to think about what might happen next
  • Introduce simulations or role-play where appropriate to engage learners’ imaginations in wider learning 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation and discussion. For example:

  • Asking learners to explain what they are pretending to be or do in a role-play activity. Do they show awareness of an imaginary object or setting?
  • Use teacher observations to watch how learners interact with one another. Can they join in imaginative activities with other learners?

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Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who will use their ideas in their work.

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

  • Discuss with an individual why they might need to use their imagination at work. Here, a manager can check an individual understands what is meant by imagination, providing a definition if needed.
  • Model how to use imagination to think about new ideas. A manager might use a stimulus to show how this can help to activate the imagination. For example, using the prop of a material swatch to demonstrate how imagination can be used to think up a new object or a product.
  • Task an individual on an exercise where they are required to activate their imagination. For example, a manager might task an individual on a scenario. Here, a manager might provide a stimulus, such as a description of a scenario to help the individual activate their imagination to act out a character’s response.
  • Reflect with the individual about when they best use their imagination. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings when thinking about things that do not exist already, such as a new product, or imagining things that have not happened yet. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When working to make customers or clients ideas a reality.

Reviewing it:

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

  • An individual might be asked to imagine a situation or new product during a meeting. Here the individual might be observed for evidence they are showing awareness of the imaginary situation or object.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they take part in an assessed exercise to check for evidence of the skill step. For example: an exercise might require an individual to imagine what happen next in a situation and be questioned afterwards to check they are able to activate their imagination for this purpose.

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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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