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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 5, individuals will show that they can generate ideas by combining different concepts. 

In earlier steps, individuals thought about creating ideas when given a clear brief and success criteria, and then when they had to create their own success criteria to improve something. In this step, individuals build on this by exploring how they can combine different concepts to generate new ideas.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to identify the components of ideas and concepts 
  • How to combine these components to create something new

Reflection questions

  • What are concepts?
  • What are components?
  • How can you break an idea or concept into components? 
  • How can we combine the components of ideas to create new ones?
  • What are the advantages of doing this?
  • What are the risks of doing this?

What you need to know

Components of ideas and concepts

A concept is a type of idea that is usually quite general or big. For example, if we were decorating a classroom, we might say that the concept was ‘bright and colourful’. This gives a vague direction, but there is a lot more detail that would need to go into this to make it helpful. 

A component is a part of a whole thing or idea. For example, components of a bright and colourful classroom concept would include the positioning of the furniture, the colours on the walls, and the size of the windows.

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Choosing components from different concepts

When we respond to a brief (as in Step 3) or try to improve something (as in Step 4) we might come up with a complete concept or set of ideas to try to answer that brief or make an improvement. However, we might have more than one concept or lots of different ideas. Sometimes we will want to choose between them, but at other times we might be able to pick the best bits of each and put them all together.

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How to combine components of ideas

When we combine ideas, it is helpful to think of the components of those ideas and the success criteria that each of those components helps to fulfil.

  • For example, continuing our classroom decorating example, we might have two different concepts which look quite different: One has a circular classroom, with the furniture arranged around in a semi-circle with bright orange walls and windows set in the ceiling. The second has a rectangular classroom, with the furniture arranged in rows and big glass doors along two sides of it, and sky blue walls. Both of these ideas fulfil the same broad criteria that they are ‘bright and colourful’, but in very different ways.
  • Rather than picking one of these, we might break down both concepts into their component parts. Both concepts include room shape, furniture layout, wall colour and window positioning. We can then pick our preference for each of these component parts.
  • In this way, we might end up with a circular classroom, with furniture arranged in a semi-circle but with blue walls and big glass doors all the way around.
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The risk of combining components

If we get it right when we combine ideas, we can end up with the best of both worlds. It can give us the chance to see different ideas for each of the components of the concept and then pick the best one for each of those. 

However, it is important to be aware of the risk here too. We could end up spoiling the idea if the component parts need to be linked together, or can’t be separated.

  • In our example, it might not be possible to build big glass doors into a circular wall. In the same way, you might not be able to combine a circular room with furniture arranged in rows.

Therefore, it is always important to review whether the combination of components really is better, or whether some components can’t be separated from one another.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can model this process of combining ideas by asking learners to develop an idea for how they could redesign part of the school – for example, the playground area. Learners should be encouraged to work alone initially, capturing their ideas as diagrams. 
  • Learners can then share their different ideas. The teacher can highlight components that they like from the ideas. Learners can then work in small groups, or as one facilitated group, to identify the components of the playground and the success criteria to put together their favourite components.
  • It is important that the teacher models reviewing whether the idea is better for combining parts or whether further changes are needed. For example, it might be that combining all the components of learners’ ideas would overfill the playground area.
  • This activity could be repeated with a lower level of structuring and with a different challenge – for example, how to create the ultimate school bag. 

Reinforcing it

This is a step that can be reinforced in other areas. For example, learners could be encouraged to explore two characters who they have been reading about by thinking what would happen if they were combined. 

Equally, when learners come up with ideas, you could give them another idea which they have to combine with it or ask them to combine ideas as a group. During group activities, learners can be asked to explicitly identify where different components of group ideas have come from. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a structured, assessed task as laid out in the Teaching It section above. The critical thing is that the focus should be on a topic area that the learners are familiar so that they are demonstrating their ability to combine ideas rather than their subject knowledge.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to all who will use their ideas to generate new ways to do something.

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

  • Explain the notion of a ‘concept’ using a familiar example used across the business, such as ‘zero waste’,
  • Model how components of a concept can be identified and combined together in new ways. For example, a manager might identify the concept of luxury, and identify its key components such as ‘quality materials’ or ‘exclusivity’, showing how these are combined in different ways across a company’s product and service range.
  • Task an individual to break down another concept into its components. For example, an individual might be given a learning exercise to identify the components of a fast food concept and how different restaurants have combined these components for different effects.
  • Reflect with an individual on how successful these combinations are in achieving a ‘fast food’ solution for the customer. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings or exchanges which are about developing something new to solve a problem, where there is an opportunity to combine components of ideas.
  • Working with customers or clients: When developing a solution or products to service a customer request, where the focus is on combining ideas.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is can be assessed by 

  • Questioning an individual to check they understand how they might combine components parts of a concept together.
  • Here you can identify if the individual can check whether it is desirable to combine component ideas together.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they complete a structured exercise to break down a concept into individual components. 
  • Alternatively, it could be assessed during a group exercise, where the individuals all have to contribute ideas to a final pitch or presentation.

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 coming up with lots of ideas or working with others, we might choose one idea or we may be able to pick out the best bits of each and put them all together. Within topics and across different subject areas we can combine parts or concepts to create new and improved ideas. Breaking down ideas into component parts helps us to see their specific purpose in meeting our success criteria, as well as focusing our improvements. As an example, we could take our learning about food and science to improve our approach in sports. Or we could use team examples of nature and art when designing a set for a play.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Many business ideas begin by combining different concepts to create something brand new, for example a children’s suitcase which can be sat on by a child thus doubling up as a mode of transport. In order to provide inventive solutions to services and products, we can use the approach of combining concepts or components to form original creations. When collaborating with others, we need to be able to combine our thinking with different perspectives, be that a peer, manager, client or customer.

Why this skill step matters in wider life

Combining different concepts together helps us to come up with original ideas which can motivate us to keep improving and innovating in our wider lives. When making decisions with others we might combine different concepts and ideas to reach a compromise. For example, when cooking for a large group, you may want to combine dishes or cuisines to cater for everyone.

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!

  • Think of a common space in your community. What is it used for? Choose another concept and generate ideas which combine them. For example, you may create a group for learning a foreign language while cooking or gardening.
  • Take an object you like and one you dislike. Identify their components and combine them together to create a new invention.
  • With a group of peers, choose something you would all like to improve. Individually, each write down one idea on a piece of scrap paper starting with “I wish this could…”. Come together as a group and work together to combine elements of all your ideas.

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