Skill (labor)

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Skill is a measure of the amount of worker's expertise, specialization, wages, and supervisory capacity. Skilled workers are generally more trained, higher paid, and have more responsibilities than unskilled workers.[1]

Skilled workers have long had historical import (see Division of labor) as masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, brewers, coopers, printers and other occupations that are economically productive. Skilled workers were often politically active through their craft guilds.

Relative supply of skilled labor[edit]

Education is an important factor in increasing skill level. The increase in number of people attending high schools and colleges contribute to the increase in the supply of skilled labor. Mass education, however, is not the only factor. Immigration is also a big contributor. Immigrants created a bimodal skill distribution, where most immigrants were either low skill or high skill workers. There were few who were in between.

Historical Reference - In the United States such factors have caused an overall increase in the supply of skilled labor during the 20th century. The shift from unskilled to skilled labor can be attributed to increases in human capital, or in other words increasing the efficiency of humans through investment in knowledge. The American boom in public education, specifically high schools, congruently increased the level of human capital and total factor productivity.

Relative demand of skilled labor[edit]

One of the factors that increases the relative demand for skilled labor is attributed to the introduction of computers. In order to operate computers, workers must build up their human capital in order to learn how such a piece of machinery works. Thus, there is an increase in the demand for skilled labor. In addition to the technological change of computers, the introduction of electricity also replaces man power (unskilled labor) which, in turn, also shifts out the demand curve.

Technology, however, is not the only factor. Trade and the effects of globalization also play a role in affecting the relative demand of skilled labor. One case includes a developed country purchasing imports from a developing country, which in turn replaces products made with domestic low-skilled labor. This, in turn, decreased the demand for low-skilled workers in the developed country. Both of these factors, thus, increase the wages of highly skilled workers in the developed country.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cowan, Ruth Schwartz (1997), A Social History of American Technology, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 179, ISBN 0-19-504605-6 

Further reading[edit]