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An important aspect of your past relevant work is the skills you may have learned on the job. In the context of Social Security disability, the touchstone for job skills is Social Security Ruling 82-41. That Ruling states:

A skill is knowledge of a work activity which requires the exercise of significant judgment that goes beyond the carrying out of simple job duties and is acquired through performance of an occupation which is above the unskilled level (requires more than 30 days to learn). It is practical and familiar knowledge of the principles and processes of an art, science or trade, combined with the ability to apply them in practice in a proper and approved manner. This includes activities like making precise measurements, reading blueprints, and setting up and operating complex machinery. A skill gives a person a special advantage over unskilled workers in the labor market.

Social Security analyzes skills using the Specific Vocational Preparation (always referred to as SVP) criteria set forth in Appendix C of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.

The SSA recognizes three classifications of skill level: unskilled work, semi-skilled work and skilled work. Let’s look at each:

Unskilled work is defined as “work which needs little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time. … a person can usually learn to do the job in 30 days, and little specific vocational preparation and judgment are needed. A person does not gain work skills by doing unskilled jobs.” See 20 C.F.R 404.1568(a).

Semi-skilled work “needs some skills but does not require doing the more complex work duties.” Semi-skilled work is “less complex than skilled work, but more complex than unskilled work.” 20 C.F.R 404.1568(b).

Skilled work requires a person to use judgment. “Skilled work may require laying out work, estimating quality, determining the suitability and needed quantities of materials, making precise measurements, reading blueprints or other specifications, or making necessary computations or mechanical adjustments to control or regulate the work. Other skilled jobs may require dealing with people, facts, or figures or abstract ideas at a high level of complexity.” 20 C.F.R 404.1568(c).

Why does this matter? Well, if Social Security determines that you cannot return to your past relevant work at step 4 of the sequential evaluation, the SSA considers your ability to do other work at step 5. And when assessing your ability to do other work, your acquired job skills can be a relevant factor. If those acquired job skills can transfer to a significant number other jobs you are able to perform, your disability claim will be denied.

There will be more on the topic of transferability of skills in upcoming posts.