What is Unskilled Labor?

Unskilled labor is used to refer to a segment of the workforce associated with a limited skill set or minimal economic value for the work performed. Unskilled labor is generally characterized by a lower educational attainment, such as a high school diploma, GED or lack thereof, and typically results in smaller wages. Work that requires no specific education level or specialized experience is often available to the unskilled labor force.

Understanding 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.

Unskilled labor can be used to identify both the type of work being completed as well as the employee completing it. In the case of identifying tasks, they are generally menial and repetitive in nature, requiring very little, if any, education or training to be completed successfully. These positions are often low paying and considered entry-level.

When the term is used to describe a person or employee completing the tasks, unskilled labor refers to the lack of education or experience the person may have. Often, this lack of skills prevents them from participating in anything but the most basic of positions, requiring very little training to complete the assigned tasks. According to statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary earned by unskilled workers is minimum wage.

The federal agency has also estimated that unskilled and low-skilled labor will account for the maximum increase in jobs between 2014 and 2024. These jobs include farm workers, health care aides, and food preparation workers.

Key Takeaways

  • Unskilled labor is a workforce with limited skills or minimal economic value for the work performed.
  • Typically, unskilled laborers are used in daily production tasks that do not depend on technical abilities or skills.

Related Terms

A term similar in nature to unskilled labor is low-skilled labor. While low-skilled labor also denotes a lack of education or training necessary in order to become employed, it may be seen as slightly different from unskilled labor depending on the context. It may require basic skills training for the work to be completed successfully. Low-skilled positions may include entry-level positions within food service and retail environments as well as home health care workers.

Semi-skilled, or mid-skilled, labor involves those that persons or positions where a level of basic knowledge, experience or training is required to complete the tasks successfully. Generally, the skills required are not overly specialized but do have more complexity than unskilled positions. Examples of semiskilled positions may include delivery drivers, customer service representatives, and entry-level administrative assistants.

Skilled labor refers to persons or positions requiring a specialized skill set in order to complete some of the assigned tasks. Skilled labor may have more advanced education, training or experience. Positions in this category can include both white- and blue-collar professions ranging from electricians and lab technicians to lawyers and computer programmers. Certain semiskilled jobs, such as administrative assistants, can require advanced skill sets that lead them to be categorized as skilled instead of semiskilled positions.

Example of Unskilled and Low Skilled Labor

Grant works as a cleaner in a restaurant kitchen. It is his job to keep the kitchen floor clean by mopping it and picking up droppings from food preparation counters. Grant is an example of unskilled labor. In the same restaurant, John works as a food preparation worker. His job is to prep vegetables and meat for cooking by cleaning, washing, and cutting them down to the right size.