Explore Framework
News & Blog


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 11, individuals will show that they can assess opportunities to identify the risks and gains that they might achieve from them. 

In earlier steps, the focus was on how to look for opportunities in difficult situations, and then to adapt or develop plans in response. This step builds on this by thinking about the risks and potential gains in those situations, and how to identify them.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How to identify risks in situations
  • How to identify potential gains
  • How to compare the risks and the potential gains

Reflection questions

  • What do we mean by risks?
  • What are the potential gains of an opportunity?
  • What is the value in identifying both risks and potential gains?
  • How can we compare the risks and potential gains?

What you need to know

What are risks?

Risks are those things that might happen, which would have an adverse (or negative) effect. These are sometimes thought of as dangers or threats to life – and such things are certainly risks. Most risks though are more mundane – like financial losses, or the loss of the opportunity to do something else. 

Risks might come from the activity itself, or the broader environment. For instance, a project might be affected by events outside of its control, like a natural disaster or a pandemic. Both are worth capturing when thinking about a plan.


Identifying risks

When we think about risks, there is a level of uncertainty – they are something that might happen. This means that we often think about risks in two dimensions:

  • What the impact would be: That is, what would happen if the risk came to be realised. We might look at this in financial terms, or we might simply consider whether the impact would be low, medium or high in terms of the overall viability of what we’re seeking to do. 
  • What the likelihood is of the risk happening: That is, what is the probability that the risk will happen. In a more sophisticated model, we might be able to assign percentage probabilities to different outcomes.

What are gains?

Potential gains are those things that might happen which would have a positive effect. These are the intended positive outcomes as a result of undertaking the project. 

These gains might be captured in a financial model. This sometimes means that we have to attach values to certain outcomes. For instance, the UK Government’s Green Book helps to show what the value of certain outcomes of a project might be – from the value of reducing a decibel of aeroplane noise to a household to cleaning up a river.


Identifying potential gains

In order to calculate the potential gains, we also have to take out the direct costs of the project so that we are left with the net gain as a result of the project. For instance, a project that creates £10 of value, but costs £8 to implement has a net gain of £2 before we introduce the risk considerations. 

At other times, we might simply identify the positive outcomes that we are trying to achieve without trying to attach financial values.


Balancing gains and risks

The trick, then, is to make sure that we have considered both the expected gains and risks when making a decision about whether to pursue a project. 

If financial values have not been attached, then this is likely to be about having a discussion and making a judgement. This is probably appropriate for small decisions, where participants have a good understanding of what they are doing.

For bigger decisions and major projects, there is normally an expectation that risks and returns will be considered in financial terms to make sure the project is worth doing before it is started.


Advice for


Why this skill step matters in education

Educators work hard to reduce any risks in learning environments. When a learner thinks there is a risk, it is important that they take time to think about what the opportunities might be. For example, having to answer questions in a class or do a presentation in front of a group may bethought of as a ‘risk’ – what if they say the wrong thing or forget what to say? The risk of embarrassment might prevent the student from contributing, but what if they may get the answer correct or deliver a great presentation which everyone enjoys, resulting in good grades. Making sure that both risks and opportunities have been considered is important.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

In the workplace, as decisions are made, it is essential that the impact of any risk is considered along with their likelihood. Percentage probabilities can be given to different outcomes, both the positives and the negatives. The positives may be referred to as potential gains. These would be the desirable or intended outcomes as a result of any project within a business or organisation. This is when a value is attached to a certain outcome of a project. The value may be seen as an increased profit or income, or an environmental or social gain.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Risks are those things that might happen which would have a negative effect on an individual, a family or a community for example. Some risks can be thought of as dangers or threats to life such as natural disasters, serious accidents or illnesses. Other risks, whilst not necessarily dangerous, can have serious consequences, such as financial losses to individuals or organisations, and impact on a community. Driving a car very fast for example may get you to where you want to go quicker, but if you are involved in an accident as a result of speeding or get caught speeding, the consequences could be far reaching and very serious. Due to the uncertainty of risks, it is always worth thinking about what would happen if the risk did happen and also what the likelihood of the risk happening might be so that you are best informed as you make a decision.

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!

  • Reflect on what you consider to be a risk and what you consider to be an opportunity. Write or draw your thoughts.
  • Talk with a trusted friend or family member about what you would risk for an opportunity to do something that could be very positive for you.
  • Investigate and play board games and/or computer games where players are encouraged to identify risks and gains of situations.  
  • Consider the plot for a film or story you know well – what were the risks for the characters? What were the opportunities?

Build this step

Advice for


Teaching it

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can introduce this step by asking learners to define what is meant by risks and potential gains. This conversation can be expanded, by the teacher leading a discussion about whether we should avoid all risks? This can open up the idea that almost everything in life contains some risk – the focus should be on how to evaluate whether the risk is worth it for the potential gain.
  • The teacher can build on this by asking learners to identify the risks and potential gains in different scenarios (for instance, climbing a mountain, starting a business, applying to university, abseiling). This can then lead to a discussion of how you would decide whether to do each – the point is that the potential gain might be different to different people.
  • The teacher can then introduce the idea that for big decisions, we might attach monetary values to risks and gains to make decisions. This might be a complex idea for some learners, so the teacher can work through an example of how to attach values to outcomes and probability-adjusted risks and then balance a decision on whether to go ahead with something.
  • Finally, learners can reflect on a decision that may have coming up and to analyse the risks and potential gains associated with that decision.

Reinforcing it

This step can be effectively reinforced in several subject areas, particularly business studies, economics, geography and history. Current affairs can also be a great source of timely examples about the importance of weighing up gains and risks when making decisions.

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed in combination:

  • Firstly, check that learners understand the key concepts and definitions of risk and potential gain.
  • Secondly, ask them to complete an analysis of these for a scenario, and to find a method of reaching a justifiable conclusion about whether the project should be undertaken.

Build this step

Advice for


Build it at work:

This step will be relevant to individuals who weigh up situations at work as part of a process of deciding what actions to take.

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

  • Discuss the idea of risks and potential gains. Through this reflection an individual can understand that almost everything in life contains a risk so we should focus on how to evaluate whether the risk is worth it for the potential gain.
  • Model how to balance risks and gains. To achieve this, a manager could model an example situation – such as the company launching a new product into an established market. Here, the manager can show how to record the potential risks – such as reputational risk if the product does badly and potential gains if the product sells well.
  • Task the individual to identify the risks and potential gains in different scenarios. These can be related to a situation the individual is facing at work, for instance opening a new branch or taking on a new client. This could include wider group discussion too. 

Practising it:

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

  • Working with team mates or colleagues: During collaborations with colleagues, focusing on evaluating the risks and gains help make a decision.
  • Working with customers or clients: When helping a customer to see the value of investing in your product or service by explaining the potential gains for the risks they take. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed through discussion. For instance:

  • A manager might have a reflective conversation with an individual about a situation to identify whether they can identify the potential risks and gains contained within it. This could be about a real-life situation the individual is facing or about an imagined scenario that might happen.
  • It could also be observed whether the individual follows risk management principles in projects that they run.

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Observing the individual during an exercise. This exercise can require the individual to identify the potential risks and gains in a situation, balance these and then present what they think should be done. Evidence of this skill step can be found in the approach the individual takes to complete the task.

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.

More resources

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

More resources