What Are Transferable Skills For Social Security?

Leah had worked as a general contractor for 20 years before she became disabled. She got the job straight out of college.  After twenty years, she had the skills necessary to be a very proficient contractor.  Now, her disability rendered her unable to stand for more than 20 minutes at a time.  Leah applied for disability and the SSA said that she was not disabled.  Social Security determined that Leah had learned skills that would transfer to a job that did not require her to be on her feet much.  Because of Social Security's policy on transferable skills, Leah could not receive benefits.

Many people who are thinking about applying for Social Security benefits, particularly those above the age of 55, need to be aware of Social Security's position on Transferability of Skills.  To understand this concept, let's take a look at SSA's definition of both a "skill" and "transferable".

A skill is your knowledge about a particular job that requires a significant amount of judgment earned by experience in a skilled occupation.

A skill is transferrable if the skills acquired in a prior job meet the job requirements of other skilled or semi-skilled work. 

There are three types of jobs, or work: Unskilled, Semi-Skilled, and High-Skilled.  Let's take a look at these to understand what the SSA looks at when trying to determine whether or not your skills are "transferable".

Types of Work

Unskilled Work

An unskilled job is a job that takes less than 30 days to learn.  Examples of this might be a busser at a restaurant or an assembly line worker at a plant or factory. One does not gain work skills by working in an unskilled position.

Semi-Skilled Work

A semi-skilled job is one that takes more than 30 days to learn.  It is more complex than an unskilled job, but simpler than a high skilled job.  An example of a semi-skilled job might be a machine operator or security guard.  Some skills are learned when working in a semi-skilled position. 

High-Skilled Work

A High skilled job is one that requires months or years of training and is very complex.  An example of a high-skilled position is a chemist or contractor. Generally, the more skilled the job, the more transferrable the job skills are.    

The more transferable your skills, the more likely the Social Security Administration will be able to find a set of jobs that you can perform.  Social Security does not transfer skills from semi-skilled jobs to high-skilled.

Rules For Those 55 and Older

A special note must be made for those 55 or older as if you are found to have severe impairments that limit you to sedentary or light work, the Social Security Administration will find that you are not capable of doing other types of work unless you have skills that you can transfer to skilled or semiskilled work.  If you are limited to sedentary work, the SSA will find that your skills are transferable only if the sedentary work is so similar to your past work that you will need to make very few adjustments.  If you are between 55 and 60, and are limited to light work, the SSA uses the standard method of determining your level of transferable skills.  Read more about the Social Security 55 and Older Grid.

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