The Importance of the Skilled Worker

A skilled worker is any worker who has special skill, training, knowledge, and (usually acquired) ability in their work. A skilled worker may have attended a college, university or technical school. Or, a skilled worker may have learned their skills on the job. Examples of skilled labor include software development, paramedics, police officers, soldiers, physicians, crane operators, drafters, painters, plumbers, craftsmen, cooks and accountants. These workers can be either blue-collar or white-collar workers, with varied levels of training or education.

In the northern region of the United States, craft unions may have served as the catalyst to ferment a strong solidarity in favor of skilled labor in the period of the Gilded Age (1865-1900).

In the early 1880s, the craft unions of skilled workers walked hand in hand with the Knights of Labor but the harmony did not last long and by 1885, the Knights’ leadership became hostile to trade unions. The Knights argued that the specialization of industrialization had undermined the bargaining power of skilled labor. This was partly true in the 1880s but it had not yet made obsolete the existence of craft unionism.

The period between 1901 and 1925 signals the rise and fall of the Socialist Party of America which depended on skilled workers.

There was a divergence in status within the working class between skilled and unskilled labor due to the fall in prices of some products and the skilled workers’ rising standard of living after the depression of 1929. Skilled workers were the heart of the labor movement before World War I but during the 1920s, they lost much of their enthusiasm and the movement suffered thereby.

In the 20th century, in Nazi Germany, the lower class was subdivided into:

agricultural workers,
unskilled and semi-skilled workers,
skilled craft workers,
other skilled workers and
domestic workers.

After the end of World War II, West Germany surpassed France in the employment of skilled labor needed at a time when industrialization was sweeping Europe at a fast pace. West Germany’s preponderance in the training of skilled workers in technical schools, was the main factor to outweigh the balance between the two countries. In the period between 1950 and 1970, the number of technicians and engineers in West Germany rose from 160,000 to approximately 570,000 by promoting skilled workers through the ranks so that those who were performing skilled labor in 1950 had already become technicians and engineers by 1970.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the average wage of a highly skilled machinist in the United States of America is $3,000 to $4,000 per month. In China, the average wage for a factory worker is $150 a month.

While most (if not all) jobs require some level of skill, “skilled workers” bring some degree of expertise to the performance of a given job. For example, a factory worker who inspects new televisions for whether they turn on or off can fulfill this job with little or no knowledge of the inner workings of televisions. However, someone who repairs televisions would be considered a skilled worker, since such a person would possess the knowledge to be able to identify and correct problems with a television.

In addition to the general use of the term, various agencies or governments, both federal and local, may require skilled workers to meet additional specifications. Such definitions can affect matters such as immigration, licensure and eligibility for travel or residency. For example, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, skilled worker positions are not seasonal or temporary and require at least two years of experience or training.

Skilled work varies in type (i.e., service versus labor), education requirements (i.e., apprenticeship versus graduate college) and availability (freelance versus on-call). Such differences are often reflected in titling, opportunity, responsibility and (most significantly) salary.

Both skilled and non-skilled workers are vital and indispensable for the smooth-running of a free-market and/or capitalist society. According to Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, “…Enhancing elementary and secondary school sensitivity to market forces should help restore the balance between the demand for and the supply of skilled workers in the United States.”

Generally, however, individual skilled workers are more valued to a given company than individual non-skilled workers, as skilled workers tend to be more difficult to replace. As a result, skilled workers tend to demand more in the way of financial compensation because of their efforts. According to Greenspan, corporate managers are willing to bid up pay packages to acquire skilled workers as they identify the lack of skilled labor as one of today’s greatest problems.

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