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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 show that they can follow simple instructions to complete tasks.  

This is the first step towards becoming an effective problem solver, and is strongly related to some of the early steps around listening (being able to recall and follow simple instructions). The difference here is that the instructions might also be given in a written or visual format.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What are instructions
  • How can we be sure to follow them 

Reflection questions

  • What is meant by instructions?
  • Can you give any examples? 
  • How do we best prepare to follow instructions?
  • What might we do wrong when following instructions?

What you need to know

What are instructions

Instructions tell or show us how to do something. They can help us to solve problems or learn how to do something new.


Different forms of instructions

Instructions come in lots of different forms. For example:

  • A recipe is a set of instructions to tell you how to bake or cook something
  • A map with directions is a set of instructions to help you find your way to somewhere
  • Almost all games come with a set of instructions to help someone know how to play

How we receive instructions

We might receive instructions:

  • In a verbal or spoken form 
  • In a written form, using words  
  • In a visual form, using pictures and diagrams

The order of instructions

Almost all instructions will follow an order: you have to do one thing, then the next, and then the next. If we do not follow the order of these instructions, it is unlikely that the task will be completed accurately.


How can we be sure we follow instructions?

Before we get ready to follow instructions, there are things we can do to help us:

  • Know what the goal is: It is helpful to know what the end goal is – whether getting to a particular location, building a piece of furniture, or cooking something. If we can imagine what we are trying to get to, then we can better see if we are on track.
  • Having space to focus: Following instructions takes focus and concentration. Make sure you don’t have any distractions first.
  • Look over the instructions before getting started: If you can, it is good to look at all the instructions, so you understand how they fit together before you get started
  • Working through in order: Take each instruction one at a time, and try to follow that very carefully. You might want to ask instructions to be repeated if you are listening to them. If you are reading the instructions, you can read them as many times as you’d like. 
  • Check as you go: As you move through the instructions it can be challenging to undo steps that you’ve already completed – so check you are happy before you move on.

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Why this skill step matters in education

Instructions tell or show us how to do something. Being able to follow instructions will help us to solve problems and learn new things.In education, we are regularly given instructions either verbally, in writing or through pictures and diagrams. As a learner, it is important that we know what we are hoping to learn or achieve - what the end goal is. That way we can focus on the task, working through the instructions in order and checking as we go. By doing this, we are more likely to successfully complete a task and learn something new.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In any workplace there will be instructions that must be followed. These instructions come in different forms and employees are expected to follow them successfully. They may be instructions to make sure products or services for customers are good quality or to ensure tasks are done quickly and professionally. The instructions may be shared when you join the company or organisation as part of your initial training and shared verbally or in writing and picture form. Ongoing training and support will also be provided when updated or new instructions are shared. By following the instructions you will be able to successfully complete any tasks required of your job role.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Everyday there are lots of different instructions to follow. Instructions come in lots of different forms. A recipe, for example is a set of instructions to tell you how to bake or cook something. A packet or tin of food will have heating instructions. A map with directions is a set of instructions to help you find your way somewhere. Almost all games come with a set of instructions to help someone know how to play it. Clothes come with washing labels, instructing us how to wash and care for them. Some furniture you can buy has instructions of how to build the item. Being able to follow all kinds of instructions will help us with our daily life.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Problem Solving, 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!

  • At the end of the day make a list of all the times you have needed to follow instructions in order to complete any tasks or take part in any activities successfully.
  • Think about the instructions you have followed – were they given to you in spoken form (verbal), written form, in pictures or diagrams or a combination of these? Do you prefer to receive instructions in any particular way? Think about why this might be.
  • Who is it who gives you instructions? Talk to them about how you prefer to receive this kind of information so that you can be best supported to follow the instructions correctly. Let them know if you find written or spoken words, or pictures for example, more helpful or if you like to be able to pre-read any instructions before you have to carry out a task.

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can show learners examples of different types of instructions and how they vary. For instance, you could show examples of maps, visual guidance for building furniture, or a recipe book. 
  • The teacher can model following a simple set of instructions and showing how they are using the five tips above.
  • This can then be extended to asking learners to follow a simple set of verbal instructions to have that experience. This could start simply and then be extended further into more complicated directions.
  • Learners could then be given the challenge of following a set of written or picture-based instructions. Again, they could be reminded to follow the five guidelines above.
  • Finally, this learning could be consolidated by learners creating their own set of instructions to complete a simple task. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in the classroom, as instructions are often given. At these points, the best reinforcement is to remind learners explicitly that they are about to follow instructions and to take them through the five guidelines (if appropriate). Afterwards, learners can be encouraged to reflect on whether they followed the instructions effectively. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observation of a structured activity. For example, giving learners simple sets of instructions in a verbal, written and visual formats and evaluating whether they can complete the task by following those instructions successfully. 

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Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to all individuals who are involved in solving problems at work. 

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

  • Discuss the importance of following instructions carefully. 
  • Explain to an individual what the consequences are of not following instructions correctly. Here a manager could describe the likely outcome of a task if an individual follows instructions in the wrong order.
  • Model how to prepare to follow instructions, using some of the techniques described above, tailored to the tasks the individual normally has to follow. 
  • Task an individual to complete a process, providing them with instructions they can follow. After they complete the process using the instructions, a manager could ask them to identify stages of the process they would have been difficult to complete without instructions. 
  • Reflect with an individual on the differences between following verbal, written or visual instructions, and whether they find any of those particularly difficult.  

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: When others are relying on you to correctly perform a duty or task. 
  • Working with customers or clients: When solving a simple problem or completing a task for a customer or client. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing an individual as they follow instructions, to check these are completed in the right order.
  • Questioning an individual to find out how they would approach a completing a task, to see if they reference the instructions.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual during an assessed exercise, paying attention to how well the individual follows the instructions on how to successfully complete a task.
  • Checking, once an individual has finished following instructions, to observe if they have completed the task.

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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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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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