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Listening

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.

Speaking

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.

Creativity

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.

Leadership

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.

Teamwork

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 10, individuals will show that they can explore a situation and use their analysis to create new plans to use the opportunities they identify. 

In the previous step, the focus was on how to look for opportunities in difficult situations, and then adapt their plans accordingly. This step expands on this, but by looking at the creation of new plans as a result.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to review a challenging situation and identify viable opportunities 
  • How to develop plans for acting on those opportunities

Reflection questions

  • How can we find opportunities in difficult situations?
  • How can we turn analysis into new plans?
  • Where should we start? 
  • What do we need to keep thinking about?

What you need to know

Reviewing a difficult situation

It is important to remember that almost no situation in life is ever entirely good or entirely hopeless. Instead, opportunities exist in all situations – and that often solving a problem is how the best ideas come about. These might be scientific discoveries, new inventions, or new businesses that turn a difficulty into an opportunity.

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Strengths and weaknesses

In the previous step, we introduced the idea of the SWOT analysis. As a reminder, this is about taking two different perspectives on a particular situation. 

Firstly, we want to think about ourselves, our teams or our organisations:

  • What strengths do we bring to a situation that might be valuable? These might include our experiences, our skills, our attitudes or knowledge and assets that we have. For example, a computer, experimental equipment, or access to a factory.
  • What weaknesses do we want to avoid? These might be gaps in any of the areas that we have already talked about. It is important to remember though that strengths and weaknesses are not fixed– we can learn new skills, build our experiences or purchase equipment if we need it.
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Opportunities and threats

Secondly, we want to think about the situation itself:

  • What are the threats – that is, those things that might go wrong, risks that we face, events that might unfold, or others who might end up being rivals to solve the problem that we are working on. Sometimes we avoid thinking about threats because we want to stay positive but being aware of the risks is very important for us to make the right decisions.
  • Finally, what are the opportunities – those chances that might be positive for us. These might come from new technology, more resources becoming available or the chance to do something new. These are not always obvious, so we need to think widely about these, and perhaps talk to others with different perspectives too. 

If we do this exercise well, then we should end up with a clear view on a situation and see what we can bring to it as well.

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Turning analysis into new plans

Creating a new plan is an exciting thing – being able to start with a blank sheet of paper and creating something new. 

The biggest trap that people fall into when creating plans is to immediately start thinking about the activity that they want to do and not thinking about what they are trying to achieve. It is essential to begin by identifying what the goals are of what you are trying to achieve. This is similar to thinking about the success criteria in Creativity

In the same way that we cannot come up with really great ideas if we do not know what we are trying to solve, we cannot come up with plans if we don’t know where we are trying to get to.

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Different types of goals

Normally, people think in terms of two types of goals:

  • Primary goal – this is the main thing that to achieve. For example, it might be to find a new material that is fire resistant. Or to create a much more fuel-efficient engine. Wherever possible, it is good to put a number on this, so you can see how success looks. Perhaps the material should resist a temperature of 400ºC, or the engine achieve more than 100 miles per gallon of fuel. 
  • Secondary goals – these are additional goals that we also want to achieve and are similar to success criteria. For example, it might be that the new material must not be a risk to health, or must not cost too much. Perhaps the engine needs to be easily recyclable. 

These goals give us our end – what we are working towards achieving.

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Building a plan

We can then work backwards from here. The normal stages of a plan include:

  • Scoping and research – understanding the problem more fully.
  • Idea creation – developing different ideas for how the problem could be addressed or the opportunities used.
  • Testing ideas – putting ideas into practice and seeing how they work.
  • Reviewing and improvements – seeing whether the ideas worked in practice and how they might be improved. The cycle of testing ideas, reviewing and making improvements is likely to continue until you feel confident that you are getting towards your goals.
  • Putting into practice or production – putting the idea into production, completing the experiments and solving the problems.
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Being flexible

There are lots of different approaches to creating plans depending on the situation. If the environment is predictable, then we might be able to make detailed plans with dates and times of when different things will be completed, and by whom.

If the situation is changing quickly and is unpredictable, we might set goals but need to be more flexible on what we do to achieve those goals.

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Advice for

Educators

Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can introduce the step and how developing new plans is a step forward on simply adapting plans. It is helpful to emphasise to learners how almost all situations have elements of challenge in them, and these challenges can also lead to opportunities to resolve the challenge.
  • Learners can then be introduced to a particular challenge which might emerge from some other area of their studies or a new project idea.
  • The teacher could work with learners to complete a SWOT analysis together, or to work on it in smaller groups and compare approaches to check understanding. 
  • The teacher can then introduce learners to thinking about primary and secondary goals. This can sometimes be a difficult concept for learners to think so, so it is helpful to provide some examples (along with numerical targets) and then ask learners to develop their own too.
  • Finally, the different stages of a plan can be introduced. This can be worked on as a group.

Reinforcing it

This step is best reinforced through a sustained project or piece of work that learners develop from inception, goal planning and then developing a plan. Even better if they then put the plan into practice so that they can see some of the challenges of reconciling their ideas and the reality. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through a project. Learners could be given the opportunity to regularly reflect throughout the project, whether in discussion with a teacher or through written self-reflections to help them to consolidate their understanding of how to create new plans in difficult situations.

Build this step

Advice for

Employers

Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to individuals who encounter setbacks at work and have the scope to develop new plans.

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

  • Discuss the characteristics of a difficult situation with an individual during a check-in. This discussion might involve a manager and individual reflecting on difficult situations they have faced. Here, a manager can explain that opportunities can be found in all difficult situations.
  • Model the SWOT technique to show the individual where they found opportunities within a difficult situation they faced.   
  • Explain to an individual how to create a plan which leverages opportunities in a difficult situation. This demonstration can show the key stages of making a plan, providing an individual with an example they can follow themselves. Accompanying this demonstration can be an explanation of the differences between primary and secondary goals and why it is important to clarify these before embarking on developing or adapting plans. 
  • Task an individual to prepare a set of guidelines on what team members should do when they face a difficult situation, as part of team development exercise. Here the manager might support the individual in this task by modelling and explaining how to find opportunities in difficult situations and how to make new plans around them.  

Practising it:

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

  • Working with team mates or colleagues: During collaborations with colleagues where a difficult situation arises, focusing on creating new plans in response.
  • Working with customers or clients: When exploiting an opportunity to fulfil a customer need in the face of difficulties. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this skill step can be assessed through observation or discussion. For instance:

  • This step can be assessed through discussion if an individual currently faces a difficult situation in their work. Here, a manager might ask check in with an individual and ask reflection questions to check for evidence of this skill step in action. Evidence of this skill step in action might include: signs the individual has analysed the opportunity and created new plans informed by an awareness of their goals. Reflection questions listed in the above section can help with this. 
  • Alternatively, an individual might be observed as they take part in a training exercise. This can ask individuals to identify opportunities in a difficult situation and develop a plan to exploit these. Ideally, the training scenario would be related to the work the individual does already.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

During the recruitment process, this step is best assessed by:

  • Observing an individual as they take part in an assessed exercise. The exercise should create a need for the individual to develop a plan in response to a difficult situation. An observer can look for evidence of the skill step in action which might include: signs the individual has revealed new opportunities through a careful analysis of a situation or signs which suggest new plans are informed by an awareness of primary goals.
  • The individual can be asked for examples of where they have identified opportunities in a challenging situation, and created new plans as a result.

Build this step

Advice for

Organisations

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.

More resources

Advice for

Individuals

Why this skill step matters in education

It is always best to know what you are wanting to achieve in a learning environment. What are your goals? As a learner if you know what you are aiming for, you can create plans to follow to help you reach your goal. For example, you may want to study in a specific place or institution but you have not got the right qualifications to do it. If you face difficulty in education, it is important to have a clear view on the situation before considering your plans. Ensure you stay motivated to keep working to overcome the challenge, perhaps by speaking with others or doing some research, to create a realistic plan that can help you find an exciting new opportunity.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In a workplace, if something has gone wrong – if a significant difficulty has been experienced – someone or a group of people will be tasked with creating a plan. This will involve: scoping and researching, testing ideas, reviewing and making improvements and putting it all into practise. The entire team will need to be informed and involved in order to make improvements to the business. During the analysis and planning stages, it may involve speaking with people from across the business, perhaps from different departments, to understand what they are looking to achieve overall. Then you can go about creating and sharing the plan with everyone in the team so it is clear what everyone is working towards achieving.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Difficult situations occur within our personal lives. If the situation is predictable, you might be able to make very detailed plans with dates and times for example of when things will be done and by whom. If,however, the situation is less predictable, or changes suddenly, you may need to be more flexible on what and when to do certain things to achieve the overall goal. For example, we might volunteer for a local charity or sports club but due to funding cuts, they have to reduce their services. This might be unexpected and disheartening but it is important to look for opportunities to move forward and make a clear plan. Just as there are many plans, there are many different ways to create a plan, depending on the situation. Being able to adapt to these changes and to see the opportunities that arise shows positivity.

How to practise this skill step

To best practise this step of Staying Positive, 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!

  • In order to reach a personal goal – what will you need to do? Carry out the research and create an action plan to remind yourself of what you want to achieve. For example you may wish to take part in a 5km race in under a certain time limit – investigate training plans online, speak to others who run and draw up your own personal training plan to action.
  • Consider where you want to be in 5 years’time. What do you want to have achieved? Create a mood board of images and words you associate with this.
  • Explore planning tools and apps online that you may be able to use in education, work or at home to help you work towards your personal goals.

Build this step

Advice for

Parents & Carers

As a parent or carer, you might be thinking about how best to support your children to build their essential skills. The good news is that there is lots that you can do that will have a big impact, including:

  • Talking about how you use these skill steps in your own life
  • Trying to show how to use the skill steps, and explaining why you are doing what you are doing
  • Praising your children when they show they are using the skills well, and help them to see that as a worthwhile achievement

We’ve developed a whole series of tools and resources to help parents to build these skills, including:

  • Skill stories for the youngest children (aged 3+)
  • Short activities that you can complete together
  • Regular challenges that you can complete at home to build the essential skills
  • Reward systems like printable certificates and badges

There is also content for older children and young people, including short activities and reflections that they can complete alone, or with you.

Build this step