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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 3, individuals should react to setbacks by staying calm and continuing to try hard at the task, if appropriate. 

In the previous step, the focus was on individuals continuing to work at something when something goes wrong. This step builds on that by focusing on not just persisting but staying calm to allow for a measured response.

Building blocks

The building blocks of this step are learning:

  • How you might feel when something goes wrong 
  • How to stay calm in the face of setbacks

Reflection questions

  • How do you feel when something goes wrong? 
  • When might you feel angry? When might you feel upset?
  • How do you behave if you are angry or upset?
  • How can you stay calm when something goes wrong?
  • Why is this important?

What you need to know

How we feel when things go wrong

In the previous step, we explored how things going wrong can often lead to a negative emotional reaction. 

Sometimes when something bad happens, we might feel sad. However, sometimes we have a stronger negative emotional response of feeling angry or scared:


  • Irritated 
  • Angry
  • Upset

We might feel angry if we feel that it was unfair that this setback happened. Perhaps we feel that someone else was to blame, or that we are being unfairly punished for something. We feel an energy to try to put it right or get some sort of justice or fairness back.   


  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Frightened

Alternatively, we might feel scared. Perhaps we now don’t know what to do next, or feel that if something bad has happened once, then more bad things might happen soon. 


Managing emotions: fear

When we have one of these emotional responses, we might take actions which end up making things much worse:

When we are scared, we try to protect ourselves. This can be a sensible step if we are in danger and need protection. However, sometimes we want to run away from something when we are not really in danger – we are just worried. If we run away in this situation, we might end up being unable to continue with what we are doing – essentially we end up giving up.


Managing emotions: anger

When we are angry, we behave quite differently. Being angry makes us feel like we have energy, but we might end up taking actions which are poorly thought through. There is a term of a ‘red mist’ descending when we are angry – it means that when we have a strong emotional response, we stop being able to think clearly about what is going on. Instead, we look to blame someone or to try to fix an injustice. We might end up being aggressive to other people or situations and behave in ways that are not appropriate, damaging relationships in the process. 

For these reasons, we need to think about how to avoid these emotional responses when something goes wrong.


What it means to feel calm

Calmness is a positive emotion which is when we are settled and content with a situation. It is not a strong positive emotion like happiness, or an energetic, positive emotion like excitement. 

It is challenging to move from a setback to strong positive emotions, but with practice, it is possible to neutralise strong negative emotions, to get back to a state of calm.

Being calm is helpful because it gives space to think about a setback or a problem to think through what could be done instead. It is tough to make good plans or develop new ideas if you are not feeling calm first.


How to stay calm

There are a few steps to calm down if you feel angry:

1. It is essential to make a choice to calm down. It will take thoughtful effort to be able to calm down and will take energy.

2. You might need some space. Particularly if you have just got the bad news or feel upset about someone’s actions, you should try to take yourself out of that situation, so you have time and space to think. Combining this with fresh air works well.

3. You could think about something that calms you down, like people you love, happy memories or something you are looking forward to. 

4. Sometimes people focus on breathing slowly as there is some evidence that this helps you to focus. 

5. Some people find counting in their heads an effective way of avoiding an immediate adverse reaction.

6. Talk to someone who you trust and who is supportive. Sometimes talking about something can help you to feel less angry or upset by it 

7. Sometimes physical activity can help, as can trying to relax your body – if we are tense it often causes us to tense our shoulders, for example.


Deciding to calm down

Some of these different approaches will be more or less effective for different people – and you might find your own methods that work particularly well for you. However, always remember that the critical step is to recognise when you are feeling angry or upset, and making the decision to become calm.


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Why this skill step matters in education

Whilst learning we can experience differing emotions. Some positive and some negative. If we are finding some new learning particularly challenging, or when we feel like we have lots to do and not enough time or resources to do it, we can become anxious or stressed. Negative feelings can affect the way we speak and listen to others, or work with them on any shared tasks. We should seek to stay calm when things feel like they are going wrong in our educational setting. Losing our ‘cool’ in a stressful learning environment could affect our learning in a negative way and should be avoided.

Why this skill step matters in the workplace

Whether in the office, retail space, factory, or off-site, we may experience something going wrong in our working day. This can be challenging as we are all only human and will experience an emotional response. It is possible to change strong negative emotions such as anger and frustration and to get back to a state of calm. Being calm is helpful because it gives space to think about the situation and come up with possible solutions. It is hard to make good plans, find creative solutions or develop new ideas if you are not feeling calm first.

Why this skill step matters in the wider world

Sometimes when things go wrong, we may find that we have very strong negative emotional response. When this happens, we need to be careful that we do not take an action which could end up making things no better and might even make them much worse. If we are worried or scared, we might retreat – run away and give up, when, had we carried on, we could have achieved something. Or we might feel angry and look to blame someone else. This may mean we respond aggressively and damage our relationship with them. It is therefore important to develop ways to remain calm in negative situations where ever we may be.

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!

  • Talk to a trusted friend or family member when it feels like something is going wrong. Often talking about the thing that is causing you to feel a negative emotion can help you to feel less concerned about it.
  • Investigate yoga, meditation and breathing techniques to help you find a sense of calm – there are many classes, apps and resources online to refer to. As you become confident in these practices, you can use techniques in your day whenever you feel you may be losing your calm.
  • Seek a hobby that helps you to unwind after a challenging day. It might be something energetic like playing a sport, going for a run, a swim, doing some yoga or gardening. Or it could be something less energetic like reading, painting, playing a musical instrument, baking or cooking. Having something to positively distract us, that we can enjoy and engage with, can help us stay calm.

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Teaching It

To teach this step:

  • The teacher can introduce this step by reminding learners about the broad different positive and negative emotions they might feel at different times: happy, excited, calm, sad, angry, or scared.
  • The teacher could talk learners through thinking about different setbacks that might lead them to feel angry or scared, and then what the subsequent consequences might be. Learners could reflect on a time they have felt angry or scared and what they then did and how that made the situation worse. 
  • The teacher can then ask learners for any suggestions that they might have about how to reduce their feelings of anger or fear in the face of a setback. This list can be compared to the advice given here and discussed.
  • Learners could consolidate this learning by producing a list of tips or poster to share this insight with others. 

Reinforcing it

This step can be reinforced in a classroom setting. It might be worth having a visual reminder of what an individual can do to stay calm in the face of setbacks which can be referred to if learners are scared or angry in the context of the classroom or elsewhere in the school. 

It might also be possible to provide learners with regular reflective opportunities for them to think about their emotions of the week, and how they have managed any setbacks. 

Assessing it 

This step is best assessed through observing how learners respond to setbacks in the classroom or things going wrong – including how they interact with their teachers, parents and peers outside of learning.

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Build it at work: 

This step will be relevant to those who encounter setbacks at work.

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

  • Discuss with the individual different setbacks that might lead them to feel angry or scared and what the results of acting out those emotions might be. 
  • Explain to an individual why it is important to manage their emotional response to these setbacks.
  • Model some of the techniques to stay calm in a challenging situation.
  • Task an individual to ask colleagues what they do to manage their emotions in times of stress or disappointment. 
  • Reflect with the individual about a time when they have felt angry or scared and whether they were able to stay calm – and what happened if they didn’t.

Practising it:

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

  • Working with colleagues: If there have been setbacks or disappointments.
  • Working with customers or clients: When something has gone wrong or there has been a mistake. 

Reviewing it:

For those already employed, this step is best assessed by observing an individual over a series of events. For instance:

  • Watching how an individual responds to setbacks when things are going wrong – including how they interact with customers, colleagues and other stakeholders.
  • Reflecting with the individual about the techniques they use to stay calm in the face of things going wrong or other setbacks.   

Spotting it in recruitment: 

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

  • Asking questions during an interview to understand how an individual has overcome setbacks in the past. 
  • You could also set them an activity which involves overcoming a substantial challenge and see how they react to that.

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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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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