What is Skilled Labor

Skilled labor is a segment of the workforce with specialized know-how, training and experience to carry out more-complex physical or mental tasks than routine job functions. Skilled labor is generally characterized by higher education, expertise levels attained through training and experience, and higher wages. 


Skilled labor in an increasingly global competitive world is essential. Developing countries in Asia are rapidly building up their skilled labor pools. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Western European countries, which have dominated economic advancements since the mid-1800s, are paying more attention to preservation and growth of their skilled labor workforce. Corporate America (an informal term for large companies) has extensive formal training programs for both new and existing workers, while small and medium-sized firms may have formal programs, but if not, on-the-job training to build up skills is the norm.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) also provides government-sanctioned programs through the Employment & Training Administration, American Job Center Network and CareerOne Stop, which serves as a directory of local training programs. Some countries in Europe have been on the vanguard of developing skilled labor. Germany is particularly considered a role model with its apprenticeship programs throughout its corporate sector - in auto plants, machine manufacturing facilities, technology hardware and software development offices, banking offices. The U.S. is just beginning to replicate this training model for skilled labor.

The Future of Skilled Labor

With rapid changes in the economy with respect to the growth of knowledge-based jobs, skilled labor of the future may be different from the skilled labor of the past and present. The "rise of the machine" is engendering great debate and a certain level of anxiety among skilled workers, who wonder if they will eventually be replaced on the job by a robot or a computer algorithm. Those who have yet to join the working world wonder what kinds of skills will lead to gainful employment in a new era. High-end manufacturing and many professional services that require specialized knowledge such law, medicine and finance are at this moment under assault from the rise of the machine. Skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are currently being promoted as the answer to staying competitive in the modern global workforce.