Recognising the skill in jobs traditionally considered unskilled

Funding source: Australian Research Council Linkage program

Research period: 2011-2014

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

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.

Overview of project

The project investigated unidentified and undervalued skill in people's jobs through research in nine occupations in service and manufacturing industries. It aimed 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 suggested 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 focused 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
Phase 7: National and international validation and dissemination.

Project progress

This project has now concluded.


A summary report commissioned by Manufacturing Skills Australia (docx, 70kb)

This project has led to several submissions to national VET processes:

Response to paper 'Industry engagement in Training Package Development' (docx, 545kb) December 2014.

Response to discussion paper 'Review of Training Packages and Accredited Courses' (docx, 563kb) March 2015.

Submission to the review of Security qualifications by the Property Services Industry Reference Committee, 2017 (docx, 197kb)

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 findings of that project can be found on the  VOCED website.

Contact us

For further information about the research, please contact Professor Erica Smith on 03 5327 9665 or at