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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 will show that they can generate ideas to make something better. 

In the previous step, individuals focused on how to generate ideas when given a clear brief and success criteria. This step continues to focus on creating ideas but without the brief and success criteria being given. Instead, to improve something, individuals have to be able to identify what the success criteria are for themselves.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Understanding the success criteria
  • Making something better, using those success criteria

Reflection questions

  • What are success criteria?
  • How can we work out what they are for different things?
  • How can we come up with lots of ideas?
  • How do we know if an idea will make something better or not?

What you need to know

The importance of success criteria

In the last step, we looked at success criteria, which we said were what will tell you what your idea needs to be able to do or answer to be judged successful. 

If you don’t have success criteria, it is impossible to come up with great ideas because you have no way of knowing whether an idea is a good one or not. This means that if we are not given success criteria, then we need to work some out for ourselves.


Understanding success criteria

Some questions that we might ask ourselves to develop those success criteria are:

  • What is this thing trying to do? It might be that the thing is a physical product like a car, or it might be a service like repairing a car. 
  • What does the thing do well? For example, the car might be good at not using too much fuel when it is driven. It might also be reliable and not break down often. 
  • What could it do better? For example, it might be that the car could be made bigger, or a better colour, or have bigger windows so people can see out better. 
  • Which of the improvements matter? In the end, we have to think about which of those potential improvements really matter. For example, if it is a sports car then perhaps it is not worth making it bigger because the success criteria are that it is as light as possible and can seat two people. On the other hand, if it is a car that is used as a taxi, then being bigger might be helpful. 

We can use this thought process to work out what are the success criteria of the product or service – what is it trying to achieve and for whom? Once we know the success criteria, we can work out how to make something better.


Start with the problem you are solving

When thinking about improving something, you might start from a problem that you have experienced in using the product or service:

  • Perhaps it took a long time to do your shopping, or you couldn’t find what you were looking for. 
  • Perhaps a machine broke or cost more money than you thought it should have done.

This gives you a success criteria to work towards – you will be successful in improving something if it can do it better.


Improving one problem but creating another

However, it is really important that we think about whether your idea might solve a problem but accidentally make something else worse. 

To take our car example from earlier, adding some overhead storage on a sports car might mean that it can carry more luggage. However, the downside of that might be that it would ruin the aerodynamics of the vehicle, and also make it heavier so it would be slower – which might be an important success criteria.


Making sure your ideas are feasible

The other important test for improvements is that they should be feasible. We looked at what it meant to be feasible before, but essentially it means that something is achievable in terms of cost and being real. These should also be success criteria but can easily be overlooked.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

In education we work hard to improve and develop our skills, knowledge and character. When learning it’s important to be curious and to ask questions which can help us make improvements. We can use success criteria to help improve our work, ideas or ways of working. We might be dissatisfied with a grade or want to make improvements to a product we have made. We should carefully consider key questions before making any changes to ensure our ideas don’t make something else worse. Learning to develop your own success criteria is an important part of independent learning as you progress through education and take charge of your studies.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Every job will require you to generate ideas and make improvements. We may come up with ideas to update products and resources, to support well-being, to make processes more efficient, or to improve sustainability. When working on or managing a task or project to improve something, you can ask yourself key questions to test whether your ideas are realistic and make sure that all issues are addressed. Success criteria may include budget, time frames, materials or resources. Ultimately, making improvements to key parts of the workplace will benefit both yourself and your colleagues.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Curiosity and creativity help us to make improvements to our lives. We might come up with ideas to improve our health, our home or daily routine. Making changes helps us develop and learn. We can make small improvements, like adding a new ingredient to our favourite recipe, or make bigger improvements like redesigning our workspace.

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!

  • Reflect on an object, space or process which has caused a problem or which you would like to improve. You could also ask a peer, mentor or family member to suggest something. For example, you don’t have enough floor space to separate your rubbish and recycling. Consider the problem(s) you need to address, what it already does well, how it could be improved and which of those elements are most important. Use these answers to form success criteria to support your ideas for a new design.
  • Find an item of clothing or furniture which you no longer use and generate ideas to improve it.
  • Choose an invention you use in your everyday life. Research how this design has improved over time? What changes were made and why do think that is? How could you continue to improve its design, based on your experience and needs?

Build this step

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model taking a product or service that will be familiar to the learners and thinking about how it can be improved. First, this means modelling how to identify its success criteria. 
  • Analysing the whiteboard, some of its success criteria might be that it can be seen by all learners, that it is easy to clean, that it is within certain size limits, and that it can be safely attached to the wall.
  • The teacher can then take the learners through an exercise of thinking about what is good about the product or service and what could be improved. For example, the whiteboard is visible to everyone in the room, was cheap, and is securely fastened to the wall. However, it might be challenging to clean, and hard to read when the sun is shining on it.
  • Learners can then think about what they could do to fix those problems – for example, by putting a surface on that was easier to clean, or to put up shades to stop the sun shining directly on the whiteboard.
  • It is essential then to circle back to ensure that none of the ideas would have adverse effects in other areas. For example, making the surface easier to clean might make it more difficult to write on in the first place, or stopping the sun shining on the whiteboard might make it harder to see on a dull day.
  • Having modelled this for learners, they can then be encouraged to go through this process themselves, using some scaffolding to ensure they follow step by step. As they grow in confidence, it should be possible to remove some of this structure. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in the classroom, and learners can also be encouraged to think more widely across their experience at school and at home to identify things, whether products or services, that they could improve. The teacher can take the lead on sharing examples of where they have changed something or come up with new ideas to make things better so that learners realise that they probably all have areas of their lives where they can come up with ideas to make things better. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured challenge. For example, by setting learners a challenge to improve something that they are familiar with, and providing them with some cues to think through the logical process to ensure they really are making improvements, not just changes.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to all who can apply their ideas to improve something at work.

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

Explain to an individual the concept of success criteria and how these can be used to determine whether their ideas will help to improve something. This might lead to a discussion about the value of success criteria to the process of making something better.

Model to an individual, or group of individuals, a process of generating ideas to improve something. This can be about improving something the individuals are familiar with, such as one of the company’s products. During the demonstration, the manager can model the three stages of the process:

  •      Identifying the success criteria
  •      Thinking about what is good about the product or service and what could be improved. 
  •      Reviewing ideas on potential improvements to ensure that none of the ideas would have adverse effects in other areas. 

Task an individual to generate ideas to make improvements in another way. This example might be about an individual using problems to generate ideas about potential solutions. 

Reflect with the individual about the opportunities they have to improve products or services in their work. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During conversations with team mates that are about identifying products and services that they can improve.
  • Working with customers or clients: When generating ideas to make things better than they already are for a customer or client.

Reviewing it:

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

  • When individuals are involved in projects, they can be observed to identify whether they demonstrate evidence of them identifying success criteria and using this to create a solution or a problem. 
  • During the observation a manager can look for evidence the individual has tested improvements for feasibility and unintended effects. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during a simulated exercise where they are required to generate an idea to improve a product or situation when they are not supplied with a clear brief and success criteria. 
  • During the exercise, the individual might be asked to explain how they would go about developing the improvement.

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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