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Disability and Job Skill Levels

Among the many things that Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates when determining whether you qualify for disability benefits, the level of skill required in your last job is one of the most important factors. SSA will look to see if there is less demanding work you can do and will, in part, utilize the skill level of your last job to do so.

SSA will take the skill level of your last job to come up with a list of available jobs you might be able to perform at the same level of skill as your past work. SSA considers a skill to be knowledge of a task that is attained through job performance and requires judgment. In order to use the correct techniques or make the right decisions to complete your work, you learn skills on the job.

Before applying for disability benefits through SSA, it is important to know which category of work your former job falls into. SSA classifies skill levels of jobs into skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled. Job skill level is generally classified by the qualities and characteristics of the specific job as well as how long it takes to learn how to do the job.

Skilled work requires the use of judgment, knowledge of how to perform manual or mechanical tasks to provide a service or create a material or product, and specific qualifications. It usually takes at least 6 months or, more often, many years to learn a skilled job.

Semi-skilled work takes 3 to 6 months to learn and requires some level of skill but does not include complex job functions. Typically, semi-skilled work requires the worker to stay alert and pay attention to detail to guard against job risks.

Unskilled work requires little or no judgment to perform simple tasks, and unskilled workers usually learn the job in less than 1 month. These jobs often require strength but do not help the worker gain work skills.

SSA uses the Specific Vocational Preparation (SVP) rating to help it determine the skill level of your last job. The SVP indicates how long it takes a worker to learn how to do the job at an average performance level. The higher the SVP, the more skilled the job, and the levels are pre-determined by the Department of Labor.

There are 9 SVP levels: 1) SVP 1, which requires a short demonstration; 2) SVP 2, which requires up to 1 month of training; 3) SVP 3, which requires up to 3 months of training; 4) SVP 4, which requires 3 to 6 months of training; 5) SVP 5, which requires 6 months to 1 year of training; 6) SVP 6, which requires 1 to 2 years of training; 7) SVP 7, which requires 2 to 4 years of training; 8) SVP 8, which requires 4 to 10 years of training; and 9) SVP 9, which requires 10 or more years of training. Levels 1 and 2 of SVP are considered unskilled, levels 3 and 4 of SVP are considered semi-skilled, and levels 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 of SVP are skilled.

SSA relies heavily on how you describe your job functions in your application to determine the skill level of your past work. Your descriptions must be accurate and thorough, especially when it comes to explaining your responsibilities, job duties, and how long it took you to learn your job.