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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 7, individuals will have to show that they can carry out research to build their understanding of complex problems. 

In the previous step, the idea of complex problems was introduced: these are problems where links or interdependencies mean that there is no simple technical solution to the problem – no clear ‘correct answer’. This step focuses on the importance of being able to carry out research to explore complex problems.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to identify useful research for exploring complex problems
  • How to carry out research

Reflection questions

  • Why is research an important part of exploring complex problems?
  • How can we know what research to carry out? 
  • What are some of the different types of research? 
  • When is each the best to use?

What you need to know

Complex problems

Complex problems are those problems that do not have a simple answer. Instead, there are lots of potential answers, and there are links or interdependencies between different things that mean that solving part of a problem might create new ones. 

Complex problems do not have an easy answer, and experts will often disagree about what the best solution to a particular problem is. That is because experts often have different information, and sometimes this leads them to different views on what to do.


Identifying useful research

Sometimes there is not information that is already known and written down to answer a particular question. So we have to carry out other types of research or experiments to find out the answers ourselves. 

To know where to start with a complex problem, we should start by being clear on what we are trying to achieve – that is, what does a successful solution allow us to do? What are the things that we need to know to come up with the best answer that we can to the complex problem?


Primary and secondary research

Research is working to increase our knowledge and understanding of a particular topic or idea. Broadly there are two types of research:

  • Primary research: This is using new information that you collect yourself. For example, you might carry out a survey, interview people, carry out an experiment, or observe what is going and collect data. 
  • Secondary research: This is about using existing information that you find. For example, looking at existing books, articles or studies, or data that is published by different organisations like the government.

How to carry out research

When looking at a complex problem, individuals normally start with secondary research. That is because this is often easier and less expensive than primary research. It means that you can find out whether your question has already been answered and what is still unknown.

Primary research can be helpful because it can use an experimental approach to answer the particular problem that you want to solve or give a more direct answer to your question. However, it is often more challenging to set up, takes longer and is more expensive – particularly for big, complex problems.


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Why this skill step matters in education

Complex problems are those problems that do not have a simple answer. Instead, there are lots of potential answers. In certain subjects or topic areas, you might be required to find further information to complete an assignment. This might be because not much is known about the issue and you may need to carry out research to find out more for yourself. You might also be able to achieve higher grades by including primary or secondary research in your work. When making important decisions such as where to go next in education or beyond, collecting research can help you explore different options and may result in your preferences changing.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

When complex problems occur in the workplace you may need to work with others, either internally with colleagues, or externally with those from other organisations to increase your knowledge and understanding before you seek to come up with any solution to the problem. This can take a lot of time and planning. It is important when seeking to build your understanding on a complex issue that you pay close attention to any source of information and seek to use what you have found to good effect. In the world of work, the longer it takes to come up with solutions to any problem often the more costly it is to a business. Equally, rushing may cause losses too if it was not a good solution. You need to make sure you equally do not rush, or take too long – getting the balance right is important.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

As complex problems can happen anywhere, it is useful to be able to recognise which type of research is going to be most helpful indifferent situations. It is also important to be clear what you are trying to achieve when beginning any research. You might be considering a big change like moving to a new location, applying for a promotion at work or for a new job, or adopting a pet. There are lots of separate things to consider with this complex problem and gaps in your knowledge may require extra research. For example, you might look in to the facilities available in the new location or public transport to a new place of work.

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!

  • Remind yourself of the difference between primary and secondary research and all of the different strategies you can use to find out more information about something.
  • Imagine a friend has come to you. They are in the fortunate position of having been offered both jobs they have recently applied and been interviewed for. They need to make a decision on which one to accept. Help them identify some of the questions they would need to answer to solve this complex problem. Then come up with some examples of primary and secondary research they could carry out to answer those questions.
  • Think of a complex problem you might be faced with such as organising an event for a large number of people of different ages and with different interests. What research would you need to do in order to plan an event that would suit the mall?

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can reinforce the difference between simple, complicated and complex problems, and that complex problems are often made up of lots of smaller questions. Carrying out research is a key part of exploring complex problems. 
  • Learners can be asked to identify whether different examples of research are primary or secondary research (for example, surveys, reading reports, looking at government data, interviews).
  • Learners could be asked to think about a particular complex problem – ideally something derived from other subject learning – and think about what some of the component questions are that they would want to answer to solve that problem. They can also think of examples of primary and secondary research that they would use to help to solve that complex problem. 

Reinforcing it

Some elements of this step are straightforward to reinforce in the classroom setting. For example, introducing how we know something and whether that is from primary or secondary research. 

Other elements would need slightly more organisation – for example, using complex problems as a focusing lens for covering subject content. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a worked activity. For example:

  • Asking learners to define and identify some examples of primary and secondary research. 
  • Posing a complex problem to learners, based on a subject area that they have some understanding of, and asking them to identify some of the questions they would need to answer to solve the complex problem. They should then come up with some examples of primary and secondary research they could carry out to answer those questions.

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Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to some individuals in the workplace, especially those who are involved in solving complex problems through their work.

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

  • Explore with an individual why it might be useful to perform research by discussing what the gaps in our understanding on a topic are.
  • Model a process to increase knowledge on a topic which features primary research and secondary research methods. Here, a manager might demonstrate how an individual can approach solving the problem of how to make the business more successful by using research methods.
  • Task an individual to explain the differences between and merits of using primary and secondary research when applied to the complex problem of how to make their area of work more successful.
  • Reflect with the individual about what they are trying to achieve to help them identify what research would be useful.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During the course of a project where information which might help to answer a particular problem is not already known.
  • Working with customers or clients: When thinking about how to solve a particular complex problem with a customer or client. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step can be assessed through questioning. For instance:

  • An individual could be posed a complex question and asked to identify some of the questions they would need to answer to solve the complex problem. They should then come up with some examples of primary and secondary research they could carry out to answer those questions. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Asking an individual to define and identify some examples of primary and secondary research, during an interview.
  • Posing a complex problem, and asking the individual to identify the research questions that they would need to answer, and the primary and secondary research they might carry out.

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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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