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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 3, individuals will show that they can generate ideas when given a clear brief. 

In earlier steps, the focus was on the use of imagination, and how to share what learners can imagine through speaking, role play, and drawing pictures or diagrams. This step shifts now to think about idea generation rather than just imagining.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What is a creative brief 
  • How to generate ideas for a brief

Reflection questions

  • What is meant by a brief?
  • How can a brief be helpful?
  • Can you give examples of where you have been given a brief? 
  • How can you create ideas to fulfil a brief?
  • What are some things that you should do, and some things that you should avoid doing? 
  • Have you got any examples of having done this?

What you need to know

What is a brief?

A brief is a problem or challenge that we have to come up with ideas to solve. The brief might be short or long; it might be in a written form, or it might be spoken.

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Success criteria

A brief will normally have success criteria attached to it. The success criteria will tell you what your idea needs to be able to do or answer to be judged successful. 

  • For example, the success criteria for a lunch box might be that it needs to big enough to hold a sandwich, waterproof, and not too heavy to carry. 
  • As another example, the success criteria for a school trip might be that learners can learn something that links to their school work, that it is not too far away, and that the whole class go together.

If it is not clear what the success criteria are, you should either ask the person who is setting you the brief, or think about what you think they should be if they cannot tell you. 

Success criteria are critical because knowing what we are working towards and what needs to be included, means we can focus our imagination rather than creating ideas that will not work for the brief. There is also good evidence that people come up with better ideas when they are constrained or limited.

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How to generate ideas to a brief

When you are creating ideas, the most important thing is to try to create as many as possible at the beginning. If you only come up with one idea, then it is unlikely to be your best idea. 

You can then think about which of those ideas fulfil the success criteria that you have been set. This might get rid of quite a few of the ideas.

There might also be other things that mean an idea becomes unrealistic – for example; it depends on events, materials, or inventions that do not exist. Again, at this stage, these ideas should be removed from your list. 

Of the ideas that are left, you might combine different elements of those ideas to create the best plan that you can to fulfil the brief that you have been set.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model what a brief might look like and identify the success criteria from it. 
  • For example: You need to design a new form of transport for travelling underwater. It must be made of something waterproof, fit at least 20 people and be shaped like a fish or some other sea creature. 
  • Encourage learners to generate as many possible ideas for what they could create and then remove those that would not fulfil the success criteria or are too unrealistic. 
  • This approach could also be explored in other ways, for example:
  • Using simple story writing to help learners practise generating good ideas. These could be linked to something you are working on or learning about more widely. Create different constraints and success criteria for learners to work towards. For example: learners need to tell a story using only ten words; using words that start with a limited set of letters; or where they must include certain familiar characters.

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself to being reinforced in lots of different aspects of learning, when you are encouraging learners to engage with a particular topic or subject area. Some further strategies can be used by a teacher include:

  • In other areas of teaching and learning, asking learners to identify the success criteria provided, or challenging them to produce their own.
  • Explicitly praising learners for thinking about success criteria.
  • Encouraging learners to create lots of ideas before filtering them down according to the success criteria – this is a crucial discipline so that they do not always just think that their first idea is the best one. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured activity. This can include giving them a simple brief with clear success criteria. Try to structure the activity so that there is space for learners to generate lots of ideas, and then go through the process of filtering that list down.

Sharing their final idea might draw on any of the methods of speaking, drawing or acting that were highlighted in Step 1 and Step 2.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to everyone who will create ideas as part of their work.

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

  • Explain the characteristics of a brief to an individual to help make it easier for an individual to recognise them. A manager might supply examples of a verbal and written brief that the individual might come across in their role, to make this learning more concrete.
  • Model a process of generating ideas to a brief to a group. Here a manager might show a process generating ideas to meet a fictitious brief that has clear success criterion, following the guidance laid out above. For example, a manager might introduce the following brief: ‘produce a form of packaging for a perishable good. It should reduce manufacturing costs by 25%, be attractive to the target customer, be made of fully recyclable materials and keep the goods contained within it at 4 degrees’. Through the demonstration they could show how to generate multiple ideas how to benchmark ideas against success criteria and combine idea elements to create a plan.
  • Task an individual to write a checklist of things they should do when responding to a creative brief. This should include some of ideas listed above such as: ‘check the success criteria with the person who has set the brief if this is unclear’ and ‘create as many ideas as is possible at the beginning’.
  • Reflect with the individual on the reasons why it is helpful to generate as many possible ideas as is possible for a brief.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: Across the lifecycle of a project, when develop a new idea or solution in response to a fixed brief with clear success criteria. 
  • Working with customers or clients: Whenever working with clients and customers to provide a solution to a defined problem.

Reviewing it:

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

  • When individuals are involved in projects, they can be observed to identify whether there is evidence of them using success criteria contained within a brief to develop a solution.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during a structured activity. Here an individual might be required to generate an idea to improve a product or situation in response to a clear brief. The individual should generate lots of ideas and then process these ideas using the methods outlined above.

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

Why this skill step matters in education

When we are set learning tasks, we are given a written or spoken brief. Usually we will be given success criteria to help us understand how best to complete the task and to focus our imagination and ideas. We may be given a brief for a written, visual or practical task such as finding the right solution, creating a product or designing a warm-up exercise. The brief and success criteria can help you to come up with different ideas so that you can identify the best option.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, we may be given a clear brief from our manager, a client or a customer. We may work with a wider team to contribute elements to the same brief but each be given our own success criteria: for example an architect and a builder or a graphic designer and a writer. Each person or team will need to generate multiple ideas to address the brief and meet the success criteria. It is important we follow the set brief so that those who receive what we have created are satisfied with the outcome and our work.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

In our daily life, we often face problems or challenges which need to be resolved. It’s important to think of lots of different ideas before we choose the best option but this can be difficult if it’s not clear exactly what we need to do. A clear brief makes the task easier because it helps to focus our thinking. For example, when choosing an appropriate coat for winter or a holiday destination. We can compare our ideas and check them against the brief we were given to make sure we have been successful.

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!

  • Set yourself a clear brief for cooking a meal. Success criteria might include the number of ingredients, the budget or cuisine. Generate at least 3 ideas and select the best option to make.
  • Make a checklist for a task you have been set with a clear brief. Tick off the success criteria as you go and generate as many ideas as you can to meet them.
  • Using an upcoming celebration, generate ideas to plan a celebratory event. How can you use a clear brief to help you focus your ideas and make the event a success?
  • Set yourself some different criteria for writing a short story. Perhaps it could only include 10 words or it might need to include a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

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