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- (relating to a job or occupation) qualities required of a particular job in terms of the range and technical complexity of the tasks involved, level of discretion and control over how the work is performed, time needed to learn the job and the level of knowledge and training necessary.
- (relating to a person) capabilities acquired by a person in his or her education and working life which may include one or more of the following: cognitive abilities (capacity for abstract thought, memory concentration), manual dexterity, knowledge, and interpersonal abilities (ability to communicate, cooperate, empathize with others, leadership).
- (social construct) a label attached to certain types of work or occupation as a result of custom and practice, union negotiation and job regulation which attracts differential rates of pay and status, and which are normally reflected in official classifications of occupations as 'skilled’, 'semiskilled’ or ‘unskilled’ in the division of labour.
- (wider social sense) the most general capacities and COMPETENCE possessed by social actors, the sense in which participation in social life is always a 'skilled accomplishment’. The discussion that follows deals mainly with 'skill’ in senses l and 3 .
The definition of skill in the second sense, as the qualities which a person brings to a job, derives from industrial psychology, but also informs discussion of the marketability and substitutability of skills in the labour market (see DUAL LABOUR MARKET). Skills acquired in this sense may depend partly on natural aptitudes although sociologists generally argue that most skills are learnt. Discussion of changes in the nature and level of skills has included analysis of the rise and decline of skills which are highly specialized and of transferable skills which are more indeterminate and less job specific and which may, therefore, command higher pay and status. The concept of skill as residing in the person is also important in the analysis of tacit skills which refer to the often unconscious and habitual skills which are learnt in the workplace through close familiarity with machines or work practices. Such tacit skills are frequently job specific and unrecognized in formal job status but are nevertheless critical to employers for the day to day operation of production or the provision of services.
The definition of skill as a social construct draws attention to the point that the definitions of skill above may not correspond in practice. Certain types of work may involve high levels of skill in the technical or objective sense but go unrewarded in the labour market, women's work being a notable example (see SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR). Conversely, work may attract high pay and status via union negotiation or employers’ strategies to ‘divide and rule’ their workforce such that job gradings bear little resemblance to actual differences in skill (see also INTERNAL LABOUR MARKET). Similarly, the profusion of 'semiskilled’ job titles may refer to jobs which require little or no training – hence the observation that ‘most workers demonstrate higher skills driving to work than they need to perform their tasks’. See also DESKILLING.
the ability, which has been raised to the level of automatism, to solve a certain kind of problem (usually one that requires a motor response). Any new mode of action—performed originally as an independent, elaborate, and conscious operation— can, as a result of frequent repetition, eventually be performed automatically, thus becoming a skill in the proper sense of the word.
As a rule, a skill, in contrast to a simple habit, is not associated with a persistent tendency to be performed under given circumstances. The separate stages in the formation of motor skills have been studied in detail by the Soviet psychologist N. A. Bernshtein. Based on the concept of mental actions, the first attempts at programmed formation of skills have been made.
Such skills as passing through labyrinths, finding the way around an obstacle, and using equipment have been thoroughly studied in experiments with animals. An increase in the general organizational level of an animal means an increase in lability of skills and the capacity for applying accumulated experience to new situations. The training of animals, during which skills are developed under the purposeful direction of man, is of great practical importance.
REFERENCESBernshtein, N. A. O postroenii dvizhenii. Moscow, 1947.
Khodzhava, Z. I. Problema navyka v psikhologii. Tbilisi, 1960.
Sachko, N. N., and P. Ia. Gal’perin. “Formirovanie dvigatel’nykh navykov.” In Formirovanie znanii i umenii na osnove teorii poetapnogo usvoeniia umstvennykh deistvii. Moscow, 1968.