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There is an excellent discussion of job traits versus transferable skills in Kramer v. Astrue, No. 1:10-cv-207-JAW (D. Me. March 25, 2011).

Here is the relevant excerpt (I have removed citations to the administrative record):

The administrative law judge found that the plaintiff’s past jobs as a firefighter and an emergency services dispatcher required the following skills: “[p]erform a variety of duties, deal with people, perform effectively under stress, and make judgments and decisions.” These were identified by the vocational expert in his testimony as the transferable skills he would consider in responding to the administrative law judge’s hypothetical questions. The plaintiff contends that these are not job skills in the world of Social Security, but rather traits, the existence of which has no effect  on the question of whether an applicant has transferable work skills.

In order to find that a claimant who cannot return to his past relevant work can perform other work of a skilled or, as in this case, semi-skilled nature, an administrative law judge must find that the claimant has skills developed in his past work that can be transferred to the specific other work identified as available for him.  20 C.F.R. § 404.1568(d); Social Security Ruling 83-10, reprinted in  West’s Social Security Reporting Service  Rulings 1983-1991, at 26;  see also Fines v. Apfel, 149 F.3d 893, 895 (8th Cir. 1998).  In the instant case, the vocational expert so testified, and the administrative law judge relied on his testimony.  The plaintiff’s challenge here, then, is not to the administrative law judge’s  findings, but rather to the vocational expert’s testimony.  


The listed “skills” are: performing a variety of duties, dealing with people, performing effectively under stress, and making judgments and decisions. As the court noted in Ellington v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 738 F.2d 159, 161 (6th Cir. 1984), skills identified as “independence of judgment” and “responsibility for work product” “are too vague to constitute particular skills which are transferable.”   Such “skills” are not distinguishable “from those of a lawyer, a secretary or a nuclear physicist.”  Id.  In Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468 (2d Cir. 2002), the court, holding that “there is an inherent difference between aptitudes and skills” in Social Security parlance, id. at 474, found that the following abilities were not transferable skills:  to learn and apply rules and procedures, to use reason and judgment in dealing with all kinds of people, to think clearly and react quickly in an emergency, to keep physically fit, to make conclusions based on facts and one’s personal judgment, and to change easily and frequently from one activity to another.  Id. at 476-77.  Remand was ordered in both of these cases. 

For the case at hand, the identified “skills” do not differ significantly from those rejected in Ellington and Draegert, and I, therefore, reject them as a basis for the vocational expert’s identification of three semi-skilled jobs that the plaintiff could perform, given the RFC assigned by the administrative law judge. 

Judge Rich made the correct analysis. Bear this case in mind next time a vocational expert takes a liberty with the applicant's transferable skills. Don't let the VE testify about traits instead of transferable skills. Object to that testimony, and say that those traits are not "transferable skills," as that terms is defined by the Social Security Administration.