What’s The Difference Between Skilled Labor Jobs and Unskilled Labor Jobs?

News and insights for job seekers and hiring managers.

What’s The Difference Between Skilled Labor Jobs and Unskilled Labor Jobs?

When you’re looking for work or planning your career, you may wonder what is considered skilled labor and what is considered unskilled. After all, every job requires some level of skill, right? In a way. Cashiers or farm workers, for example, can become very adept at their jobs. You could argue they are skilled, but to truly fall into the skilled labor category, a high level of training is involved. For jobs like welding or plumbing, handing them tools and saying “get to work” could have disastrous results.  

College Degrees are Growing More Common 

In the last few decades, college degrees are expected for even low-paying entrylevel jobs. And this is at a time when the cost of college tuition is at a record high, making it a daunting prospect to pay back student loans. People entering the workforce have been steered away from “Blue Collar” jobs in favor of those requiring a college education. Many are unaware of how lucrative and rewarding some blue-collar jobs can be particularly skilled positions. People fresh out of high school can get training and begin earning, rather than spending four years studying before getting a start on a career.  

What is the difference between unskilled and skilled jobs? 

For unskilled labor jobs, all you really need is a solid work ethic and a willingness to learn. You can find work with a high school diploma or even a GED. People enjoy unskilled labor because, in most positions, you’re not stuck behind a desk. In many of them, you even get to spend your workday outdoors. The disadvantage of unskilled labor jobs is that most positions don’t pay well. Many of them involve manual laborwhich can be tough on your body, particularly as you get older (on the bright side, manual labor can keep you in shape without going to the gym!). 

Gain skills and earning potential 

As you move forward in your career, you might want to move into a skilled position to improve your earning potential and job security. The more skills you have, the harder you are to replace, and the less chance that your job can be done by a machine eventually. In your unskilled job, keep your eyes open for skilled jobs that might be of interest. If you work on a construction site, for example, you’re likely to encounter carpenters, plumbers, and electricians at least. See if any of those positions may be of interest to you and if you are able to take on the training needed to land one of these in-demand and high-paying jobs. You can see firsthand what the job is like. You can even offer to grab a coffee or a beer with someone in a position of interest to you to ask about the pros and cons and ask any questions you have before committing.  

Unskilled labor jobs have pros and cons 

The advantage of unskilled labor occupations is that there is nearly no barrier to entry into the field, but there is also a high risk of losing your job to automation. These positions are also notoriously low-paying. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary earned by unskilled workers is minimum wage. 

Examples of unskilled labor jobs include: 

  • Cashiers 
  • Cleaners and sweepers 
  • Farm laborers 
  • Furniture mover 
  • Grocery clerks 
  • Hotel housekeeping 
  • Laundry operator 
  • Taxi driver 
  • Telephone solicitor 
  • Waiter/waitress 

Semi-Skilled Labor 

This type of career straddles a middle ground between skilled and unskilled. These are jobs that require quite a bit of training and experience to become adept, but much of that training can occur on the job and improve with practice. These jobs are a bit more involved than unskilled jobs but not as complex or specialized as skilled or professional jobs.  

Examples of semi-skilled or low-skilled occupations include: 

  • Bartender 
  • Customer service  
  • Data entry 
  • Flight attendant 
  • Home health 
  • Nurse’s assistant 
  • Security guard 
  • Truck drivers 

What Is Skilled Labor? 

Skilled labor doesn’t usually require a degree, but it does require specialized training, and it some cases licensing or certification. It pays better than unskilled labor and job prospects are often very good. Skilled labor can be blue-collar, such as an electrician or whitecollar, such as a CNA. What sets skilled labor apart from unskilled is the level of training and expertise a person must haveIt relates to the completion of more complex mental or physical tasks. 

Skilled Labor jobs include: 

  • Construction 
  • Electrician 
  • Law enforcement officer 
  • Plumber 

This is different from what is typically considered professional work, which will require a college degree and often post-graduate level work.  

Professional level jobs include: 

  • Lawyer 
  • Doctor 
  • Architect 
  • Accountant 
  • Technical* 

*Some technical skills can be self-taught, such as programming, but it can be an uphill battle to prove your skills to an employer and land a job. Other technical positions such as various types of engineering will nearly always require a degree because of the many facets that go into engineering such as math and physics depending on the specialty.  

Predictable hours are a plus in skilled and unskilled labor jobs 

One of the best things about both skilled and unskilled jobs is that, for the most part, when you clock out at the end of the day, you’re done. You don’t need to be on-call. You don’t have to do unpaid work on your own time, such as preparing for a presentation or meeting. Chances are, you’re paid hourly. That means if your employer does need you to work beyond your scheduled hours, they’ll pay your overtime.  

Choose the industry you prefer 

There are examples of unskilled, skilled, and professional jobs in nearly every industry. For example, in construction, laborer would be an unskilled labor job, carpenter a skilled labor job, and architect a professional job. In a hospital setting, cleaners would be considered unskilled, radiology technicians skilled, and surgeons professional. It’s even possible for jobs to have essentially the same title and be unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled. You could work in a call center processing returns (unskilled), doing inbound or outbound sales (semi-skilled), or providing technical support (skilled). So, it’s easy to see that it gets complicated.  

For any of these kinds of positions, a staffing agency can be a valuable asset 

 Unskilled positions, in particular, are often temporary roles. If you register with a temporary staffing agency in your preferred field and they can line up jobs for you. If you do a good job in any of these the employer might keep you on full-time or the staffing agency is likely to be able to set you up with one assignment after another. This reduces the chance of gaps in employment that you could face if you have to keep looking for jobs on your own. For skilled and professional positions, it’s important to work with a staffing agency or recruiter that specializes in your industry and your region.  

Need more advice from a top staffing agency? 

For more career tips and insights, be sure to check out our other career resources. If you need assistance in looking for a job in Wichita, KS, get in touch with the staffing specialists of Top Notch Personnel so we can connect you with our local network of employers. Call our office to learn how our services can help you. 

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