Unskilled means requiring no training. It’s an objective statement that doesn’t have a negative connotation. An unskilled job is poorly paid because it can be done by anyone without any special skills.
There are no jobs that require no training. There are no jobs that require no skills.
I worked as a dishwasher at a dorm kitchen when I was in college. Dishwashing is usually called an “unskilled” job, but someone had to train me to load the machine, how to run it, and what to do with the plates and things when they were clean, and I needed to learn how to do this efficiently so that the kitchen didn’t run out of plates during mealtimes. All of those things were skills I had to learn.
I worked on a sandwich line for a summer when I was in college. Food service is usually called an “unskilled” job, but someone had to train me how to make the sandwiches, how to prepare the salads, and how to prepare the desserts. I had to learn how to work with the folks in the prep kitchen, with the wait staff, and with the other people on my line. I had to be trained how to open and close, because sometimes I would get those shifts. I had to learn how to work quickly and efficiently so that our customers would get their meals in a timely manner, and so that everything was prepped and clean for the next shift. All of those things were skills I had to learn.
That whole “special skills” thing? It’s classist and probably racist.
Unskilled jobs are poorly paid because the employers can get away with it, and that’s pretty much the whole reason. They are permitted by our capitalist society to exploit workers, especially those workers who are most disadvantaged.
“Unskilled” workers make our food, take care of our kids and our elders, stock our grocery store shelves, clean the spaces we use, and do hundreds of other things that make our lives easier. “Unskilled” jobs require a fuckton of physical labor. Don’t those things merit good compensation?
Every job requires skills, every job requires training. And every job should be respected and have dignity, and should pay people enough to live on, and then some.
Look how fast the world economy crashed once the ‘unskilled’ labor had to stay home in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unskilled” simply means “you are expected to figure out how this works in less than a day” instead of “no worries, we teach you over 3 years how to use excel and a copy machine”.
When I sorted bills for my university, I got paid really well cause while I was only part-time, the job itself is not deemed “unskilled”. Despite me literally just sorting stuff by numbers. Look at a number, put it between other numbers. All day every day. I even was allowed to have as much coffee and tea as I liked from the office kitchen for free.
When I worked for Subway for a month, I had to learn within 2 hours:
- exactly where and how to cut the bread to make both sides equal
- what sauce to recommend with what topping
- how much topping to scoop per half
- what all the breads, toppings and stuff are called and being able to rattle them down on command
- how to use three different vegetable cutters
- how to use their oven (that thing has like 9 buttons that all do different shit and none of the buttons got ANY symbol or word on it, all are just black)
- what the day’s special was for every day
- what the price for stuff was without looking at the sign or being at the cash register
- when to change the gloves (all the time, for every little shit)
I also had to go to a 2 hour food sanitary training before hand to give me a certificate so I was even allowed to work at Subways.
The fact that I got paid much better for doing stuff that some simple AI could do in triple the time is obnoxious. The fact that people think that if my full-time job would be “working in an university office” would be prestigious while a full-time job as a sandwich maker is “uneducated” is disgusting.
I once worked in a university archive transcribing handwritten or typewriter notes into a computer. It was very easy and I learned to do it in one day. I could do it while listening to a podcast or music, and I was almost entirely left to my own devices. That was a “skilled” job.
Meanwhile, working in a Starbucks (“unskilled” labor) took me months of practice to perfect. I had to learn to make every drink on the menu, but also how to use the register, how to keep different areas of the store clean, how to prepare and date ingredients and brew hot and cold coffee, how to explain the menu to customers (knowing all the major ingredients of every item), how to promote different products, how to communicate with the team, how to use the ovens, and how to do all of it quickly while still being friendly, pleasant, and fast at all times. It took about a year to become reasonably good at every part of the job.
When I became a supervisor I also had to learn to handle cash responsibilities, inventory, management, working with vendors and partners, being aware of and improving measurements like sales and customer ratings, and coaching other baristas.
People don’t measure skilled and unskilled by how much training or education you had, it’s about whether you paid for that education or not - creating a barrier for those unable to pay for or access that kind of education.