What are skilled and unskilled occupations under SSDI?

An issue that you may face when you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, especially if you are over-50 and fall onto the Medical-Vocational Grid, is the subject of skilled versus unskilled occupations. An understanding of these terms is important because how your prior work is classified can be determinative of whether or not you will be entitled to disability benefits under the Grid Rules.

Unskilled occupations are the least complex types of work. Jobs are unskilled when persons can usually learn to do them in 30 days or less. A simple example would be a dishwasher in a restaurant. Other jobs can also be learned in 30 days or less, such as product assembler, crossing guard and laborers—although these may not be as obvious. In the Houma area, these unskilled occupations can be something like an assistant at a car wash.

Skilled occupations are more complex and varied than unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. They require more training time and often a higher educational attainment. Skilled occupations may require abstract thinking (chemists and architects, for example), or special artistic talents (an example is a school band instructor or pottery maker). Practical knowledge of machinery and understanding of charts and technical manuals can indicate a skilled occupation. Other attributes include organizational skills, working extensively with people, making difficult decisions in short time frames, and developing data.

Skilled work can be broken down even further to semi-skilled. These are occupations such as heavy equipment operators, masons, and specialty machine operators. Jobs requiring a professional license are usually skilled—barber, lawyer, doctor, accountant, and even HVAC mechanics or automotive mechanics, too.

Why Is This Important?

Under the Medical-Vocational Grid rules, how your past work is classified can be the deciding factor into whether you get benefits. Let’s look at an example:

We will take a Thibodaux resident with less than a high school education and past relevant work as a painter (a semi-skilled occupation), which is a medium exertional job. This individual’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) is at the sedentary exertional level due to degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and a cardiac condition. He cannot perform his past relevant work and has no transferable skills.

If this person is:

45 – He is not disabled under the grids;

52 – He is disabled under the grids;

58 – He is disabled under the grids.


If the individual had an RFC of light, and was:

45 – He is not disabled under the grids;

52 – He is not disabled under the grids;

58 – He is disabled under the grids.


For this reason, understanding how your prior work is classified is important to the success of your Louisiana Social Security Disability Claim. If you have questions about your work classification or disability claim, call Loyd Bourgeois at 985-240-9773 for a free consultation.

Loyd J. Bourgeois
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Disability and Personal Injury Attorney