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Is a Skill Transferable?

The Social Security Administration recognizes that there are different degrees of similarity between jobs, “ranging from very close similarities to remote and incidental similarities.” Clearly, skills are most transferable between jobs with similar work activities. However, the SSA does not require a job to be completely similar to your past work to deny you benefits based on transferable skills.

Skills are most readily transferable to occupations that use “the same or similar tools and machines” and involve “the same or similar raw materials, products, processes, or services.” The new job must also require the same or a lesser degree of skill. Some jobs have skills so specialized that they are not transferable at all. Such jobs include bee-keeping and spear-fishing.

Social Security decision-makers frequently have to consult with vocational experts, especially if the claimant’s past occupation is unusual. Vocational experts should rely on their own personal knowledge first and foremost, but they may also find it helpful to consult the Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles to see if there are related occupations within the same work-group. (The DOT divides all jobs into 66 such groups.) The DOT is now 20 years out of date, but its online replacement, O*Net, has virtually no information relevant to Social Security disability determinations.

Your New York disability attorney will make sure the vocational expert doesn’t mix up work skills with worker traits. These two terms are often confused, but the SSA specifies that skills are acquired on the job whereas traits are innate abilities. A decision-maker cannot deny you benefits on the basis of traits you possess.

Another possible source of confusion relates to skills that are not transferable because of your disability. For example, if you acquired skills at a medium job and those skills are highly relevant to a similar sedentary job, you could be denied benefits. However, if you are unable to perform the sedentary job for some other reason (like an inability to sit), the question of skills is irrelevant.

Continue to Questioning the Vocational Expert About Skills.