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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 1, individuals will have to demonstrate that they can listen to and recall a short series of 3-5 instructions. 

This builds on the previous step of being able to listen without interrupting and starts to focus on the retention of information. It might apply to listening to a manager, instructor or a peer.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • Why recalling instructions matters 
  • How to concentrate and focus 
  • How to store and recall simple instructions

Reflection questions

  • When do you have to remember instructions?
  • Why is it important that you do so accurately? 
  • When do you struggle to listen to instructions?
  • What could you do to better listen to instructions?
  • What can you do to help remember three simple instructions?

What you need to know

When we have to listen to instructions

We have to listen to instructions in many different parts of our lives: whether we are being taught something new, being given a job to do, or just completing tasks in our wider lives. 

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Why recalling instructions matters

We must listen to instructions carefully – to make sure that we do exactly what is being expected, so that we don’t make mistakes or place ourselves into situations of danger.

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Why can it be hard to listen to instructions?

Sometimes people struggle to listen to instructions because:

  • They think they already know what to do – perhaps because they think that they have done the same thing, or something very similar in the past
  • They are distracted by other things that they are thinking about
  • They are distracted by things that are going on around them – for example, background noise, visual distractions or fiddling with things
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How to concentrate and focus

To help learners to concentrate we suggest a three-step approach:

  • Stop anything that might be a distraction. That might include putting down stationery or tools, not writing or reading anything else, and ensuring that there are no distracting background noises. 
  • Focus on the speaker, by looking at them and being ready to receive the instructions. Your brain must be in a place of actively trying to remember what is being said. 
  • Repeat the instructions in your head several times so that you have been able to process them and check that you understand what they mean in your head.
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How to store and recall simple instructions

It should be possible to store and recall three simple instructions within our working memories. They then need to be considered and processed to pass into our longer-term memory. To help things to stick in our long-term memories we can:

  • Think about whether the instructions follow patterns that we already know – for example, there might be links between how we clean different objects, how we write different things down, or how we play different games
  • Visualising ourselves completing the task by following the instructions
  • Breaking the instructions into three separate packages and imagining them in order 

If there are more than three instructions it can be hard to remember them. We might need to put them into smaller sub-sets of instructions. In most cases though, we would write down lengthier sets of instructions. We come on to doing this in Step 5.

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Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

Listening to instructions forms part of everyday life, especially in education. We may do this when learning new content, completing a job or when we act on requests from others. When we are unable to listening effectively, it can lead to problems with behaviour, incomplete or incorrect work or finding ourselves in possibly dangerous situations. Many types of examination require you to demonstrate your understanding of short instructions in order to achieve marks. In schools and colleges, we are expected to remember large amounts of information so being able to listen and remember instructions is important for our success.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

It is important to listen and remember short instructions in the workplace. Verbal instructions form the foundation of many jobs, often explaining how to complete a given task. These may come from managers, colleagues or customers but you must be able to store, recall and process that information effectively. Whatever your role, if you support customers, liaise with stakeholders or have others relying on your work, then ensuring you deliver what’s expected is critical. When we are unable to listen to short instructions, we are more likely to make mistakes which could lead to tasks taking longer, requiring more resources or losing customer trust which could all have a negative impact on our job and workplace.  

Why this skill step matters in wider life

We need to listen and follow instructions in many different parts of our lives outside of education and work. We could be taking part in an activity with others, playing a game, cooking a meal or putting together a piece of furniture and these might require us to follow instructions. By being able to successfully listen and follow instructions, we are able to build positive relationships with others through group activities and be successful when undertaking a task or new activity.

How to practice this skill step

To best practise this step of Listening, 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!

  • Find a video online outlining a step-by-step process: for example, an origami tutorial. Try to follow the short instructions as they are delivered. Were you able to complete the task?
  • Ask a friend to teach you something new in a 10-minute limit: for example, how to say 1-10 in a different language, or how to draw a basic animal. How did you find following their instructions?
  • Ask a friend to read out or find a video containing a basic recipe. Follow the instructions to create the item of food.
  • Teach yourself a new dance by listening and following simple instructions. Were you able to demonstrate the correct moves?

Build this step

Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can give learners a simple set of instructions – for example, to create a model or to rearrange objects in a particular way. As their teacher, model how you would take an instruction, repeat it over in your head and then try to visualise it.
  • Give one learner another simple set of instructions and then the other learner tries to recall and complete the challenge.

Reinforcing it

This is a step that lends itself to regular practice in the classroom setting, and once mastered will support learning and a positive classroom dynamic. As a teacher you can:

  • Remind learners of the three-step process (Stop, Focus, Repeat) to ensure that they are ready to take on instructions before you start 
  • When giving instructions, model to learners how they can process those instructions, making sure that they have taken them on 
  • As learners become more confident in this skill step, provide less scaffolding when giving instructions – perhaps replacing verbal reminders to Stop, Focus, Repeat with visual reminders in the classroom
  • Be confident over time in giving sets of instructions without substantial repetition and demonstrate your confidence that learners will be able to follow these instructions 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a practical exercise. For example:

  • By giving learners a simple set of instructions – for example, to fold a piece of paper, to draw a particular picture on one side and to write something on the inside. It is then possible to observe who has been able to recall and follow those instructions
  • By asking learners to give each other simple sets of instructions and to observe how learners can cope with that structure

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to anyone working with others in the course of their work, be they colleagues, customers or partners.

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

  • Discuss with an individual why it is important for them to remember the instructions they are given. A manager might extend this conversation to explore the potential sources of distraction in their work environment which might make it difficult for an individual to remember instructions.
  • Explain a process an individual might follow to help them store and recall simple instructions, providing a template an individual can use. A manager might use an example from the list above. 
  • Model the ‘Stop, Focus, Repeat’ technique to show an employee how to focus and concentrate.
  • Task an individual to listen to a verbal instruction and reproduce this in a written format. There might be an opportunity to do this during a team meeting, at the end of which the individual can recall a simple list of tasks to be followed.
  • Reflect with an individual on how successful they have been at remembering the verbal instructions they have been given over the past week. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During conversations with a manager or colleague, when details about a task to be completed are shared.
  • Working with customers or clients: When taking short instructions or messages from customers or clients over the telephone or face to face.

Reviewing it:

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

  • Managers can issue verbal instructions on how to execute a task and task their employee to repeat this instruction back to them. The repeated instruction can be checked for accuracy to determine how well an individual has listened and remembered the short instruction.
  • Alternatively, managers can issue a verbal instruction to their employee and task them to reproduce this in a written format. Similarly, the written instruction can be checked for accuracy to determine how well an individual has listened and remembered the short instruction.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during an assessment exercise where the individual should listen to a simple set of 3 verbal instructions and carry out a task.

Observing the individual during an assessment exercise in which the individual listens to verbal instructions to produce a prototype or object to a particular specification. The individual’s production can be checked for accuracy to determine how well they have listened and remembered an instruction.

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

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