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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 be able to see that many problems have multiple possible solutions to them. They will be able to start coming up with different options to solve those problems.  

In earlier steps the focus was on completing a simple task by following instructions, seeking help or finding extra information. The emphasis here now switches to exploring problems – understanding that unlike simple tasks, there is not always one obvious solution, but multiple options.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • When problems might have lots of answers
  • How to come up with multiple potential solutions for those problems

Reflection questions

  • What sort of problems might have more than one answer? 
  • Can you give any examples? 
  • How can you come up with lots of possible solutions?
  • Why is that sometimes more difficult than it sounds?

What you need to know

Simple problems

There is a difference between simple problems which have one correct answer, and those that we call complicated problems which might have different possible solutions.

Simple problems might include things like

  • Where did I leave my keys?
  • What is my address?
  • What is the most popular car colour in 2020? 

For simple problems, it is about trying to find the correct answer.


When problems have many solutions

Complicated problems do not have one obvious answer, and might include things like:

  • How should I travel to Manchester? 
  • Where should I visit in Birmingham? 
  • What should I do next? 

For these, no answer is factually correct, and a range of options exist. 

For example, for travelling to Manchester there are a range of possibilities (wherever in the world you’re starting from) – car, walking, cycling, flying are all options. Similarly, there are plenty of places in Birmingham that you could visit, and the best answer to that question will be different for every individual and what they want to achieve in their visit. 

In the next step, we will think about how you could choose between different options.


Exploring complicated problems

To create lots of possible solutions to a problem, we first have to recognise that something is a complicated problem where it is helpful to have lots of possible solutions

We then have to decide that we want to explore a problem, rather than using the first idea that we have.


How to come up with possible solutions

Although it sounds simple, there is good evidence that humans are often quite bad at exploring problems. We tend to take the first idea that comes into our heads and to imagine that is the best answer that there could be. We become very attached to that idea and decide that it must be the right answer.

This is because it is hard to come up with lots of ideas, so it is easier just to stick with the first one we create. However, there is also evidence that our first ideas are rarely our best ideas – however you feel at the time.

So, the most important thing to remember about achieving this step is that it takes commitment to create lots of possible solutions.


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Why this skill step matters in education

Sometimes when we are learning we may come across a simple problem or a more complicated problem. A simple problem is about finding one correct answer, such as working out the answer to a mathematical question or recalling a particular event in history. A complicated problem does not have one obvious answer. For example, whether or not to attend a trip abroad. In order to solve complicated problems like this, it is important to explore different solutions and not always go with the first answer we come up with. This is because this may not be the best solution and, using our example, you might be excited to go and learn new things but it may be a country you have visited before.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When in the workplace, you will face a range of problems, perhaps with a task you are completing, a disagreement with a peer, or difficulty finishing a job on time. When these happen, you may be tempted to go with the first solution you can think of to solve the problem. This might be because of pressure from colleagues, a lack of time or that there is lots of other tasks left to do. You may not want to have to ask a colleague or manager because you know they are very busy too. Or you may fear they will judge you for bothering them with a problem you should have an answer to already. It is important to remember though, by exploring different solutions you may save yourself and others time (and possibly money) in the future.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

It is important to explore different solutions to problems in our daily lives. We might need to decide on a new pair of shoes for an occasion or on the best mode of transport to an event. By coming up with a range of solutions we find the best way to solve the problem. This could result in us saving money by finding the same pair of shoes for a lower price in another shop or saving time by taking two buses instead of a train. It can be hard to come up with lots of ideas as it takes more time and effort. However, there may be a number of positives that come from doing so.

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!

  • List the simple problems you have overcome recently. Did you check your answer each time to make sure it was accurate?
  • List the more complicated problems you have come across recently. Think about how you came up with a solution. Did you just go with your first answer or idea, or did you check and consider different solutions?
  • Imagine you have a whole week ahead of you – with nothing planned.  What solutions will you come up with to make sure your free week is full of enjoyable experiences for you?  Think of ideas to plan out each day of the week. What would be your best plan? Why?

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can introduce the difference between simple problems where there is one answer and complicated problems where there are a range of possible solutions. The teacher can give some examples of each of these, and then learners can be asked to come up with lots of other examples of each type.
  • The teacher can then suggest some complicated problems and ask learners to come up with as many possible solutions as they can. Some example questions might be “When do we learn best?” or “What is the best way to travel to school?”

Reinforcing it

This is a good step to reinforce in a classroom setting. Learners can be reminded when a question they are being asked is a simple problem or a complicated problem. 

In the case of a complicated problem, it is worth actively encouraging learners to think about the range of possible answers or solutions that they could come up with, rather than just picking the first idea that comes to mind. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through an exercise. For example:

  • Asking learners to identify from a list of options, which problems are simple or complicated?
  • For complicated problems, learners could be asked to generate a range of possible ideas or solutions.

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Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant for most individuals, including those who solve complicated problems at work.

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

  • Explain the difference between simple problems where there is one answer and complicated problems where there are a range of possible solutions. Here a manager might make this concrete by providing an example the individual can relate to, such as: who should we hire out of these candidates?
  • Model the effects of failing to fully explore solutions to complicated problems so participants can see why this is important. 
  • Task an individual to list three problems which are best approached by creating different possible solutions.
  • Reflect with the individual on the barriers to creating a variety of possible solutions to for these problems.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During meetings with others where complicated problems are discussed.
  • Working with customers or clients: When there is not an obvious way to respond to a customer or client request.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is can be assessed by asking an individual’s colleagues to provide feedback

  • Colleagues can be asked to report how likely an individual is to explore a range of solutions to a difficult problem. 
  • They could do this by reporting how regularly the colleague has gone with the first possible solution to a difficult problem before exploring the options.  

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during an exercise to count how many different possible solutions they generate to solve a difficult problem.

Build this step

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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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