Skilled vs. Unskilled Work in El Paso, Texas

To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits an applicant must show how a disability impairs or prevents performing substantial gainful work for at least one year. When determining whether an applicant is capable of working, the Social Security Administration looks at the applicant’s past work experience and whether he or she has a history of skilled or unskilled labor. 

If you have a disability and believe you are entitled to Social Security Disability benefits, Jon Sipes, Attorney at Law can assist you in your benefits application or in appealing a denial of benefits. Jon Sipes has helped countless El Paso residents receive disability benefits and understands how social security payments can ease financial burdens.

Do you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits?

There are two types of Social Security Disability benefits you might be eligible for, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Your eligibility for either program depends on your number of years of work experience and the amount you have paid into the Social Security system. To qualify for SSDI, you must have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years. 

If you have not worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years, you are not eligible for SSDI but may still qualify for the need-based SSI program available to those who are elderly, have disabilities, or are blind.

Proving a Disability

To be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, you must show you suffer from a long-term medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or result in death. In addition, you must show that the disability prevents you from performing substantial gainful activity (SGA). In 2020, the Social Security Administration recognizes substantial gainful activity as performing work that results in earning more than $1,260 per month. 

Evaluation of Ability to Perform Skilled and Unskilled Work 

To determine if you can perform any level of work, the Social Security Administration will evaluate your skills. To assess your skills and decide whether you can perform any level of work, the Social Security Administration classifies jobs as skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled. 

Skilled Work

Skilled work is any job or occupation that requires a person to use judgment to make decisions about the processes or machines used to perform tasks. Skilled work often involves interaction with other people and generally requires education beyond high school. Training for skilled work generally requires at least 6 months of education but can take several years to complete. Examples of skilled workers include teachers, nurses, engineers, and technology developers.

Semi-skilled Work

Semi-skilled work consists of jobs that require paying attention to detail and exercising judgment but still involves simpler tasks than skilled work. Semi-skilled work may not require education beyond high school, but it usually takes between 3 and 6 months to learn all the aspects of the job. Examples of semi-skilled work include truck drivers, administrative assistants, data entry, and health aides. 

Unskilled Work

Jobs that require a minimum level of competency are referred to as unskilled work. Generally, a person can learn to perform unskilled jobs in thirty days or less. Unskilled work may or may not require completion of high school, depending on the job. Examples of unskilled work include clerks or typists, package specialists, dishwashers, or custodians.

Why is Skill Level Important?

The skill level of previous work is important because it allows the Social Security Administration to determine if an applicant is capable of performing other types of work. The Social Security Administration reviews your skills to decide whether or not you have transferable skills.

What are transferable skills?

The Social Security Administration considers activities involved in prior skilled or semi-skilled work to determine if your skill set meets the requirements of other types of skilled or semi-skilled work. 

Skills are transferable between jobs when: similar skills are required, similar tools or machines are used, and similar raw materials, products, processes, or services are involved. Situations where skills might be transferable include driving a bus and driving a delivery van or working in a textile factory and working in a clothing factory. Working a retail job is probably transferable to other retail jobs unless some specialized knowledge of the product being sold is necessary. 

Ranking Skilled and Unskilled Work

The Social Security Administration ranks your skills using something called a Specific Vocational Preparation rating. Specific Vocational Preparation ratings correlate with the amount of time it takes a worker to learn how to perform a job at an average performance level. 

This table shows the Specific Vocational Preparation ranking with the average time it would take a worker to perform at that level and the skill level assigned to each.

Specific Vocational Preparation Level Amount of Training Required Skill Level
1 Short demonstration Unskilled
2 Up to 30 days Unskilled
3 Up to 90 days Semi-skilled
4 3 to 6 months Semi-skilled
5 6 months to 1 year Skilled
6 1 to 2 years Skilled
7 2 to 4 years Skilled
8 4 to 10 years Skilled
9 Over 10 years Skilled


The Social Security Administration references a dictionary of job titles that assigns Specific Vocational Preparation ranking for each job listed. Education may substitute for job training. A 4-year college degree equals 2 years of preparation, so a job requiring a college degree would have a Specific Vocational Preparation ranking of at least 6. 

How Skilled and Unskilled Work Impacts Disability Applications

The more skilled an applicant is deemed, the more likely his or her skills are transferable to other jobs. To be eligible for disability benefits, an applicant must show he or she is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. The more skills an applicant has, the harder it is to show he or she cannot perform substantial gainful activity. 

Generally, if your work history involves unskilled labor, and you are unable to perform that type of labor, it is easier to prove you are unable to perform other jobs that require unskilled labor. However, if your work history involves semi-skilled labor or skilled labor, and you are unable to perform the same type of labor, you may still be able to perform unskilled labor. Thus, the more skilled you are, the harder it is to prove you are unable to perform substantial gainful activity. 

Consult with a Social Security Disability Attorney

If your claim for disability benefits is denied because the Social Security Administration deems you eligible to perform substantial gainful activity at a skill level lower than your previous employment, you can appeal the decision. South Texas attorney Jon Sipes can review the denial and identify mistakes in skill level determination, helping you to overturn the decision. Contact Jon Sipes, Attorney at Law today to discuss your right to appeal.