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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 12, individuals will show that they can create and test hypotheses to help them to understand complex problems and develop theories. 

In the previous step, logical reasoning was introduced, including both deductive and inductive logic. Inductive logic is about deriving general rules from what is observed, and so this step builds on that by turning those proposed rules into hypotheses that can be tested. This is important for grappling with complex problems.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • What are hypotheses
  • What makes a useful hypothesis
  • How can we test our hypotheses 
  • How businesses use hypotheses for rapid innovation

Reflection questions

  • What is a hypothesis?
  • Why are hypotheses helpful to us in solving problems?
  • How can we test hypotheses?
  • Why are hypotheses particularly important in entrepreneurship and innovation?

What you need to know


A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon that has been observed in the world, or a prediction. 

It is linked to inductive reasoning, as we explored in the previous step. Inductive reasoning is how we try to make sense of the world through what we observe, and these create rules that we think are probably true. However, they inherently have a great deal of uncertainty.

For instance, to extend a previous example, we might see a lot of people wearing hats and decide that hats have become fashionable. However, before we decide to get into hat production, we would be advised to test that idea. If we don’t, we might not realise that they are wearing hats because of World Hat Day, or as a temporary response to a flock of aggressive pigeons in a small part of town. Without testing our hypothesis, we might have opened that hat factory in vain.


Creating a good hypothesis

The heart of the scientific method is the idea that a useful theory or hypothesis must be testable. It is impossible to prove that any hypothesis is absolutely true – we can only say that it has not yet been disproved so we can operate as if it is true.

For instance, a testable hypothesis is that all rabbits are mortal. We cannot be absolutely sure that it is true because there are plenty of rabbits that are still alive, and one of those that might live indefinitely. However, until that happens, our working hypothesis can be that rabbits are mortal. 

As an example, if we are interested in whether to open that hat factory, our hypothesis might be that there is a nationwide increase in demand for buying hats. Then we can test that hypothesis.

When we create a hypothesis, we should be sure that existing facts or insights have not already disproved it.


Testing a hypothesis

To test a hypothesis, we want to see if we can disprove it. 

To stretch that exciting hat example further, we could test the hypothesis by asking:

  • Is there any data that shows an increase in hat purchases?
  • Could we survey a representative sample of customers to see if their attitude to hats has changed?

If there is no evidence of either an increase in hat purchases or a shift in customer beliefs, we might be able to disprove that hypothesis, that there has been a nationwide increase in demand for buying hats. This has saved us all the bother and expense of setting up that hat factory.

Some other methods for testing a hypothesis include surveys, lab experimentation, field experimentation and historical data analysis. It is important to choose a method of testing that is rigorous yet cost-effective.

A reasonable hypothesis must be specific and testable, or it is of little use to us.


Hypotheses and agile development

Entrepreneurship is increasingly interested in how we can use hypotheses to develop and test products for customers quickly. This is sometimes called lean innovation. It works particularly well for technology or website development where small changes can be made (for example, rearranging a page, or even changing a colour) and then seeing what the difference in user behaviour is.

For this approach, something called A/B testing is often used, where a proportion of users (‘A’) experiences the website or product in one way, and the other users (‘B’) experience a minor change. This change is a hypothesis. It can be tested to see if the switch has an impact on user behaviour.


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Why this skill step matters in education

In education, you will have heard of hypotheses in relation to for example, scientific study, but they can be applied to other fields of learning to support the solving of complex problems. As a complex problem presents itself you can predict or give a suggested explanation for it – you can create and test a hypothesis. Friends, teachers and tutors can support with these. Testing a hypothesis is about seeing if it can be disproved. For example, in many schools and colleges they sought to re-write timetables when they found that student’s achievements were lower in subjects that were always timetabled to be taught later on in the afternoon. Common methods for testing a hypothesis in education can include a survey, a lab experiment, a field study,or data analysis.  

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, as in education, creating hypotheses can support the solving of complex problems. It is important when creating a hypothesis to be tested, to ask if there is any data already available that could be used, or could a representative survey be carried out efficiently. A business may seek to carry out Market Research for example to find out what their target audience of potential customers would like to see in terms of new products before investing time and money in new product lines which may not be successful. Creating and testing hypotheses could potentially be costly in terms of time and money to a business or organisation, so employees and their managers must make careful decisions as to which hypothesis to test and which resulting action will be taken to best support their organisation.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Creating a hypothesis to be tested can support us to work on solving complex problems wherever we might be – in education, at work or at home.  For example, having multiple nights of disturbed sleep can mean a person is suffering from exhaustion and may begin to feel unwell. One hypothesis that could be created and then tested is, is that person drinking too many caffeinated drinks throughout the day which has an effect on the quality of their sleep. It is important to select the method to test the theory which will give you clear results in a time and cost-effective way.

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!

  • Recall when you have ever created a hypothesis to test. What did you find? What actions did you take?
  • Think of a complex problem you or a friend currently face. Think about the causes and possible solutions remembering what the desired outcome to the problem would be.  Create a hypothesis and consider how you could measure the outcomes.
  • Find out more about lean innovations and agile developments online.

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Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher should lead learners to review what is meant by a hypothesis – this is probably a concept that they are familiar with from science, but which they might not have thought of as relevant beyond those experiments.
  • The teacher can lead a conversation about how hypotheses, and testing them, can be valuable beyond science experiments. It would be good to explore application to solving social challenges, business challenges and a range of complex problems. 
  • The learners could reflect on what a reasonable hypothesis looks like and the need for it to be testable. They can come up with good and bad examples of hypotheses.
  • Ultimately hypotheses have to be testable to be useful – learners could reflect on how they would test out the hypotheses that they created.

Reinforcing it

This step can be effectively reinforced in science learning, but also in other subject areas. Learners could be asked, before embarking on a topic, to give their hypothesis in response to a particular topic – for example, the drivers of the Repeal of the Corn Laws in history. 

Learners could review their hypotheses as they learn more and try to disprove their original ideas. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through:

  • Testing learners on their understanding of what a hypothesis is, and what makes a good hypothesis (i.e. that it is clear, specific, and testable).
  • Asking learners to develop hypotheses around a particular question, and then to come up with ideas for how they would test those hypotheses.

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Build it at work: 

This step is relevant to individuals who handle complex problems at work, and particularly those involved in research and development. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Discuss with the individual how we can use hypotheses to help us solve a range of social or business challenges. Here a manager might provide some examples of how they are currently used by the business or organisation or share an imagined hypothesis.
  • Model how to develop hypothesis so that an individual can better understand its characteristics. Here a manager might develop two hypotheses: one which is poorly formed as it is untestable and another which is specific and testable. Through a comparison, a manager can show why it a hypothesis should be testable and specific if it is to be useful. 
  • Task an individual to develop and test a hypothesis. A manager might set an exercise which is about A/B testing modifications to a company product. Here, the individual can be supported to develop a hypothesis and run an A/B test to prove or disprove their hypothesis. 
  • Reflect with the individual on the opportunities they have to develop and test hypotheses and what benefits this might generate.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During project meetings when we can use data to help us check our hypotheses.
  • Working with customers or clients: When working to generate a solution for a customer or client, with a focus on using hypothesis to help us develop solutions quickly. 

Reviewing it:

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

  • Observing an individual during a project meeting which is about developing new ideas in response to an issue, to see if an individual can develop a testable hypothesis to support problem solving.
  • Questioning an individual to check their understanding of what a hypothesis is, and what makes a good hypothesis (i.e. that it is clear, specific, and testable).

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing an individual as they perform an assessed exercise. This exercise could be a case study on a particular issue and could present an opportunity for the individual to develop hypotheses around these issues and then develop a way of testing those.

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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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