Defining Skilled vs. Semi-Skilled vs. Unskilled Labor

S

Sequence_Barry

#1
We hear a lot these days and have been involved in several discussions about the “skills” shortage in US Manufacturing. What we typically hear referred to as “skilled” labor are machinists, technicians, crafts people, etc. What is unclear, is whether or not assemblers fall into this area. Some folks seem to consider an assembler (someone that I can easily instruct or train how to do a job) as an unskilled asset. While there are as many thoughts on this as there are flavors of coffee these days, I was hoping to gain some insight as to the thoughts behind this from the manufacturing folks on this forum. Are you experiencing the "skills" shortage that is all over the news? How are you combating it in your organization?
 
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Jen Kirley

Quality and Auditing Expert
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#2
From Investopedia:
Definition of 'Unskilled Labor'

A segment of the work force associated with a low skill level or a limited economic value for the work performed (human capital). Unskilled labor is generally characterized by low education levels and small wages. Work that requires no specific education or experience is often available to workers who fall into the unskilled labor force.

Investopedia explains 'Unskilled Labor'

Unskilled labor provides a significant part of the overall labor market, performing daily production tasks that do not depend on technical abilities or skills. Menial or repetitive tasks are typical unskilled labor positions. Jobs that can be fully learned in less than 30 days often fall into the unskilled labor category.
Let's consider machining. You could put me to work deburring the edges of sheet aluminum in fabricated objects and I would be unskilled on the basis that it wouldn't take me long to learn how to handle that tool and deburr adequately. But it takes some skill to make an aluminum sheetmetal locker from a sketch. On-the-job training and/or classroom learning would be required, and my productivity would bring you greater reward than unskilled.

We have always had a need for skilled workers. What is different now is the employers' unwillingness to grow the work force, and the unions just don't supply the same skill stream as before. In the current labor market the employees are expected to take on the training and its costs. The employer compensates through higher wages - more or less, depending on the skill and its demand.

One of my professors was fond of describing the impending emergency, the looming "talent shortage." I argued with him: there is NO shortage of talent; there is a shortage of ready-to-work, just-add-water-and-stir-vigorously perfect employees.

My husband has often described his little (fire sprinkler system) company's troubles with finding good apprentices. I keep offering inventive alternatives to the newspaper ad, and what do they do? Stick an ad in the newspaper. (facepalm) The perfect employee isn't hiding between the pages of a newspaper!

Chicago has been working on a solution in its five flagship STEM schools. I recently read another nice story along the same lines in either Newsweek or Time magazine but I can't seem to find it now.
 
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