Faculty of Education and Arts

Recognising the skill in jobs traditionally considered unskilled

Research team:

Erica Smith and Andy Smith (Federation University Australia)
Ian Hampson and Anne Junor (University of New South Wales)

Industry Partner Organisations:
  • Manufacturing Skills Australia
  • Service Skills Australia
  • United Voice
Funding source: Australian Research Council Linkage program
Research period: 2011-2014
Project aims

1. To achieve better recognition of skill and skill levels in occupations and work processes which are labelled 'low level' or 'low skill' but which may contain unrecognised or under-recognised skills.  
2. To examine the effects on policy and practice, at national and company level, of labelling as 'low skilled' work that contains under-recognised and under-valued skill.
3. To investigate the potential outcomes of the findings about under-recognised skill for occupational qualifications as expressed in national Training Package, the major basis for curriculum for the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.


The project investigates unidentified and undervalued skill in people's jobs through research in nine occupations in service and manufacturing industries. It aims to provide evidence that can be used to improve government policy, qualification-based training for work, companies' management practices that relate to skill, skill levels and the perception of skill. Specifically, it will suggest improvements in the development of vocational education and training qualifications (through Training Packages) and in companies' use of skills. It will help improve the current unequal perceptions of skill in Australian jobs, providing individuals with better life chances and improve self efficacy in the labour market.

The nine occupations on which the project focuses are:

  • Hotel reception worker
  • Cleaner
  • Security operative
  • Fitter
  • Cement and concrete plant worker
  • Fabric and textile factory worker
  • Waiter
  • Chef
  • Retail assistant
Project phases
Phase 1: Interviewing senior stakeholders in the Australian VET and industrial relations system;
Phase 2: Interviewing stakeholders in the specific industry areas to be covered in the project;
Phase 3: Company-level case studies and worker interviews;
Phase 4: Data analysis;
Phase 5: Validation by companies and at industry level;
Phase 6: Training Package interrogation compare our findings about the occupation with the relevant qualification (2014);
Phase 7: National and international validation and dissemination. (2014)
Project progress

Click here for summary of progress so far (27kb, docx)

Pilot project

A pilot project 'Ways of seeing: Reconceptualising skills' was carried out in 2010 by Erica Smith and Julian Teicher, in the service industries, funded by Service Skills Australia.

The report can be viewed at


For further information about the research, please contact Professor Erica Smith on 03 5327 9665 or at e.smith@federation.edu.au