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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 9, individuals will show that they can approach complex problems by creating a range of possible options. 

In earlier steps, individuals showed that they could identify and explore complex problems through research and looking at causes and effects. This step builds on this by extending this into creating options for addressing complex problems.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to generate a range of solutions for complex problems 
  • How to assess whether these solutions are feasible

Reflection questions

  • Why is it important to consider a range of solutions for complex problems?
  • How can we come up with a range of solutions?
  • What does feasible mean?
  • How do we know whether our solutions are feasible?

What you need to know

Complicated and complex problems

In Step 5, we looked at the importance of generating multiple options to consider when trying to solve complicated problems – those problems where there is an optimal solution, but it is not an obvious one or only one answer which is correct. 

Since then, the focus has been on complex problems – those where interdependencies and links between problems mean that even experts might not agree on the optimal solution. In the last couple of steps, we have explored how to build up an understanding of these types of problems through using research and looking at causes and effects.


Generating a range of solutions for complex problems

To build on this, we need to create a range of possible solutions to evaluate. Doing so is particularly important with complex problems because often solving these problems is about a combination of different actions or activities. In essence, no one thing answers or solves the problem. 

The most important thing to remember here is that, as with Step 5, we have to take the attitude of trying to create lots of possible alternatives. It is far too easy for the human brain to think that whatever idea it first came up with is good enough and, therefore, to stop trying to create more. To help overcome that, we can set ourselves a goal – for example, coming up with at least ten or twenty possible solutions to the problem. I’ve seen organisations looking at complex problems where they try to create up to fifty or even a hundred ideas.


Checking solutions are feasible

Feasibility is about whether something is possible and at what cost or level of difficulty. 

When generating a range of solutions, it is essential to check that they are feasible by considering these key questions:

  • Does the solution have the potential to answer part of the complex problem we have explored?
  • Does the research that we have carried out suggest that the solution might work in solving part of the complex problem? 
  • Thinking about the causes and effects, would the solution have further effects that might be problematic?
  • If relevant, does the solution have the potential to be delivered within the required time, or would it take far too long to be considered?
  • If relevant, would the cost of putting the solution into practice be far too high? 

It is crucial to start by generating lots of ideas and possible solutions if we are going to have the best possible chance of successfully solving a complex problem. However, once we’ve done this, we should focus our energies on those with the highest likelihood of success.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

Within education you may face a number of complex problems ranging from what courses or topics to study, where to study or what to do next. You may have to do a number of different things to get anywhere close to coming up with an answer to the problem. It is important, when learning new things to have a ‘can do’ attitude, of trying to create lots of possible solutions and not just settling for the first, quickest idea you came up with. By coming up with a range of options (10 to 15 is a good target) you give yourself the best opportunity to pick the one most suitable for your needs. It might also be helpful to discuss these with teachers, peers, tutors, coaches or others as they may be able to provide additional advice to you.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Complex problems are not uncommon in the workplace. It might involve deciding on the cost of a service, how to structure a team, how to engage with more customers or the best way to create a product. Employees could be given the task of coming up with a range of possible options to solve a problem they have. Once a range of options have been noted, the organisation may ask those individuals to look at how feasible different options. It will be important to consider key questions such as: Does the solution have the potential to answer part of the complex problem we have explored? Thinking about the causes and effects, would the solution have further effects that might be problematic? If relevant, would the cost of putting the solution into practise be far too high? When thinking about these questions, you will have to keep in mind what is important to the company when considering the range of solutions.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

In the wider world, we can benefit from coming up with a range of options when faced with challenging, complex problems. Often the more ideas we generate, the clearer view we have on finding the right solution to the problem. You might be part of a community group exploring ways to reduce pollution and littering in your local area. This is a complex problem with multiple causes and effects. By breaking down the problem perhaps working individually or with others, you can create a range of ideas which could tackle the issue. This process can benefit you in many areas of life where you might face complex difficulties.

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!

  • Watch a favourite film or TV drama. For any complex problem, try to list as many different actions the characters could have taken to find a different solution.
  • Every time you encounter a complex problem, challenge yourself to find at least 3 different actions you could take to help you find the best solution.
  • Feasibility study practice: Imagine a friend is soon to start studying at a new college or begin a new job further away from home. It would take them far too long to walk to college or to their new place of work. One possible solution to this problem of needing to travel a further distance to study or work is to learn to drive. Is this solution feasible? Remember these key questions to consider when thinking about the feasibility of a solution: does the solution have the potential to answer at least part of the complex problem? What research would need to be carried out? Thinking about the causes and effects, would the solution have further effects that might be problematic for your friend? Does the solution have the potential to be delivered within the required time? Or would it take far too long to be considered? Would the cost of putting the solution into practice be far too high?

Build this step

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can talk through why it is essential to come up with lots of potential solutions of complex problems, and how we need a good attitude about trying to come up with as many possible answers as possible. The teacher could model this by taking a complex problem, ideally related to an area of study, and working with the learners to generate as many possible solutions as they can. 
  • The teacher can then model how, having produced lots of possible solutions, learners need to work out which ones are feasible. Together, you could review the list of possible solutions and work out which ones are feasible, according to criteria you agree.
  • The learners could then be set a similar challenge – working by themselves or in small groups to generate ideas and then discuss them to create a shortlist of feasible alternatives. This could be extended further as an individual exercise with another problem, potentially linked to other subject learning. 

Reinforcing it

This step lends itself to reinforcement in some aspects of broader learning – for example, when discussing more complex phenomena. The complex problem that learners are investigating could also be related to subject matter – whether in religious education, influences on an artist, or understanding a natural phenomenon. 

Assessing it 

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

  • Learners could be posed a complex problem, related to subject content with which they are familiar. Learners could be encouraged to generate as many possible solutions as they can and then to assess their feasibility and come up with a justified shortlist of 3-5 solutions to a complex problem.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work:

This step is relevant to individuals who handle complex problems at work. To build this step in the work environment, managers could:

  • Explain to an individual why it is important to generate as many options as is possible when attempting to solve complex problems. The manager might support this explanation with a worked example to demonstrates that the more ideas we have the more chances we have of successfully solving a complex problem. 
  • Model a process to calculate the feasibility of generated solutions to show an individual how this can be done. To achieve this, a manager might show the questions to be considered which determine feasibility and show how to check each of the solutions in turn against this. The manager could use the example of possible solutions which might make the business more successful to illustrate.
  • Task an individual to generate multiple solutions to the complex problem of how to make the business more successful. An individual might then work with their manager to check their ideas’ feasibility.
  • Reflect with the individual about the barriers to generating a variety of different solutions to a problem.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: During team meetings to decide the best possible course of action when faced with a complex problem.
  • Working with customers or clients: When helping clients or customers to respond to a complex problem by advising which solutions they might adopt.

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through a practical exercise. For instance:

  • Individuals could be engaged in a training exercise or a live issue where they are posed a complex problem with which they are familiar. As part of the training exercise, they could be tasked to generate as many possible solutions to the problem as is possible. They could next be tasked to assess their feasibility and come up with a justified shortlist of 3-5 solutions to a complex problem. 

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Setting application questions which ask an individual how they might approach a complex problem they’re likely to encounter in post. Answers can be reviewed for evidence an individual understands the importance of generating multiple options and checking for feasibility.

Build this step

Advice for


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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Advice for

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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