TN 8 (12-16)

DI 25015.017 Transferability of Skills Assessment (TSA)

Citations:

Social Security Act §§ 223(d)(2)(A) and 1614(a)(3)(B);

20 CFR §§ 404.1568 and 416.968;

SSR 82-41

A. Transferability is material to the determination

There are 33 medical-vocational rules where transferability makes a decisional difference:

  • 14 when the residual functional capacity (RFC) is light, and

  • 19 when the RFC is sedentary.

NOTE: For the complete medical-vocational guidelines see, DI 25025.035. For information on which rule to use when a TSA is not material, see DI 25025.022.

IMPORTANT: If you are not adjudicating using one of these 33 rules to direct a decision or as a framework, or if you are using medical-vocational rule 203.01 as a framework because the claimant has skilled or semiskilled PRW, the TSA is not material.

                                             Vocational rules where transferability is material

Age

Education

Previous work
experience

Decision

Advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - provides for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

High school graduate or more - provides for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 45-49

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable.

Not disabled

Younger individual age 45-49

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 45-49

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable.

Not disabled

Younger individual age 45-49

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled-skills transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 18-44

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 18-44

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 18-44

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual age 18-44

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - does not provide for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Advanced age

High school graduate or more - provides for direct entry into skilled work

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Closely approaching advanced age

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual

Limited or less

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills not transferable

Not disabled

Younger individual

High school graduate or more

Skilled or semiskilled - skills transferable

Not disabled

B. Transferability issues

Transferability of skills is an issue when all four of the following are true:

  1. Transferability is material to the determination;

  2. The individual’s residual functional capacity (RFC) or mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) prevent the performance of past relevant work (PRW);

  3. PRW has been determined to be skilled or semiskilled; and

  4. The claimant does not have a mental impairment that prevents him or her from doing skilled and semiskilled work.

C. TSA Definitions

1. What is a skill?

Per SSR 82-41, a skill is knowledge of a work activity which requires the exercise of significant judgment that goes beyond the carrying out of simple job duties and is acquired through performance of an occupation which is above the unskilled level (requires more than 30 days to learn).

It is practical and familiar knowledge of the principles and processes of an art, science or trade, combined with the ability to apply them in practice in a proper and approved manner. This includes activities like making precise measurements, reading blueprints, and setting up and operating complex machinery. Having a skill gives a person a special advantage over unskilled workers in the labor market.

2. A person with no transferable skills is equivalent to an unskilled worker

A person does not gain skills doing unskilled jobs. A person who performed skilled or semi-skilled PRW has no advantage over an unskilled worker if he or she can qualify only for an unskilled job due to lack of transferability. The table rules in Appendix 2 are consistent with the provisions regarding skills because they direct the same conclusion for individuals with an unskilled work background as they do for those with a skilled or semi-skilled work background whose skills are not transferable.

Although a Dictionary of Occupational Titles’ specific vocational preparation (SVP) rating may include some consideration of education, a person's acquired work skills may or may not be equal with his or her formal educational attainment. For the definition of SVP, see DI 25001.001A.77.

                                                                                         Examples

Skills

Unskilled Tasks

  • Answering a multi-line telephone (PBX)

  • Assembling equipment or complex objects

  • Handling large amounts of money or keeping a money drawer balanced using computers

  • Answering a standard telephone, operating a two-way radio or intercom

  • Basic driving ability

  • Filing papers

  • Greeting customers

  • Basic food preparation

  • Performing routine money handling tasks

3. Definition of transferable skills

An individual has transferable skills when the skilled or semi-skilled job functions he or she has performed in his or her PRW can be used to meet the requirements of other work within his or her RFC. You must consider all functional limitations included in the RFC when considering transferability. For a description of relevant past work, see DI 25005.015.

Transferability is different from using skills recently learned in school or other formal educational settings that may serve as a basis for direct entry into skilled work. We cannot consider education in a transferability of skills determination.

We do not expect people to be able to adjust to other work in jobs that are more complex than the ones they have actually performed.

A person’s skills are most likely to transfer between jobs of the same or lower skill level; and, which use the same or similar:

  • tools;

  • machines;

  • raw materials;

  • products;

  • processes; or

  • services. 

NOTE: An absolute similarity of all of these factors is not necessary.

4. What is unskilled work?

Unskilled work requires little or no judgment to do simple duties that can be learned on the job in a short period of time (30 days or less).

NOTE: Unskilled work generally has an SVP of 1 or 2.

5. What is semiskilled work?

Semiskilled occupations are more complex than unskilled work and distinctly simpler than the more highly skilled types of jobs. They contain more variables and require more judgment than unskilled occupations. Even though semiskilled occupations require more than 30 days to learn, the content of work activities in some semiskilled jobs may be little more than unskilled. Therefore, pay close attention to the actual complexities of the job tasks required to perform the work.

The definition of semiskilled work is found in DI 25001.001A.69. Per 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1568(b) and 416.968(b), semiskilled jobs "may require alertness and close attention ... coordination and dexterity ... as when hands or feet must be moved quickly to do repetitive tasks." These descriptive terms are not intended to illustrate types of skills in and of themselves. The terms describe worker traits (aptitudes or abilities) rather than acquired work skills.

NOTE: Semiskilled work generally has a SVP of 3 or 4.

6. What is skilled work?

The definition of skilled work is found in DI 25001.001B.76. Skilled work:

  • Requires high levels of judgment and adaptability;

  • Involves setting realistic goals or making plans independently;

  • Requires understanding, carrying out, remembering complex instructions;

  • Encompasses abstract ideas and problem solving; and

  • Has an SVP of 5 to 9 as rated in the SCO.

Skilled job functions require both:

  • work activity exercising judgment beyond carrying out simple duties; and

  • knowledge of principles and processes of an art, science, or applied trade and the ability to apply that knowledge in a proper and approved manner.

NOTE: Skilled work generally has an SVP of 5 to 9.

D. What is the effect of age, education, and RFC on transferability?

The likelihood of transferability decreases as the claimant’s age increases. However, a claimant can never be found disabled if skills are transferable to other work within his or her RFC.

1. Age and other work

In order to find that skills are transferable in other work, claimants in the following age groups would have to make very little, if any, vocational adjustment in terms of tools, work processes, and industry:

  • age 55 or older with a sedentary remaining occupational base; or

  • age 60 or older with a light remaining occupational base.

2. Age and education

Transferable skills always outweigh age and education:

  • Regardless of age or education level, if skills are transferable to other work, always find the claimant not disabled at step 5; and

  • Transferable skills for claimants who are illiterate or unable to communicate in English are rare. Skills that are not dependent on reading, or language skills, may transfer to other work within the claimant’s RFC.

    See also, Q&A 08-049 Which vocational rules should be applied for individuals who are “illiterate or unable to communicate in English” and have a history of semi-skilled or skilled work?

    IMPORTANT: Skills that a person used in another language that require English proficiency in the United States (public speaking) do not transfer.

E. When is a TSA material?

The TSA is material when all of the following conditions apply:

  • PRW was at the skilled or semi-skilled level. SKILLS CAN NEVER TRANSFER TO UNSKILLED WORK;

  • The impairment does not prevent the use of acquired skills;

  • The RFC and MRFC do not preclude other skilled or semi-skilled work; and

  • The applicable “skills not transferable” rule results in a decision of “disabled.”

F. What if the TSA is not material?

If the TSA is not material, use the applicable “not transferable” rule as a framework for the decision, per DI 25025.022; and, document the file accordingly. SKILLS CAN NEVER TRANSFER TO UNSKILLED WORK.

G. Before beginning the TSA

Before beginning the TSA, make sure all of the following are true:

  • Transferability is material to the disability determination;

  • The claimant has semi-skilled or skilled PRW;

  • The claimant’s RFC or MRFC does not prevent him or her from using his or her skill(s) in other work; and

  • The claimant’s description of PRW provides enough detail to perform a TSA.

H. Documenting the TSA

As described in SSR 82-41(6) Findings of fact in determinations or decisions involving transferability of skills, When the issue of skills and their transferability must be decided, the adjudicator or ALJ is required to make certain findings of fact and include them in the written decision. Findings should be supported with appropriate documentation.” It is important that these findings be made at all levels of adjudication to clearly establish the basis for the determination or decision for the claimant and for a reviewing body including a Federal district court.

When you make a finding that the claimant has transferable skills, the acquired work skills must be identified, and specific occupations to which the acquired work skills are transferable must be cited in your determination. Evidence that these specific skilled or semiskilled jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy should be included (the regulations take administrative notice only of the existence of unskilled sedentary, light, and medium jobs in the national economy).

This evidence may include statements by a Vocational Specialist (VS) based on expert personal knowledge or substantiation by information contained in the publications listed in regulations sections 404.1566(d) and 416.966(d).

Document each step in the Disability Determination Explanation (DDE) section of the electronic Claims Analysis Tool (eCAT) — e.g. Vocational Explanation Claim Communications, Vocational Explanation textbox.

EXCEPTION: For eCAT exclusions, document using Form SSA-5002 (Report of Contact), or the Case Development Summary Worksheet as described in DI 20503.001.

I. Steps in the TSA

Take the following steps to complete the TSA:

Step 1 – Review the claimant’s job description, but do not rely solely upon the title. Note the processes, tools, machines, and materials used and the products or services that result from the claimant’s efforts. Identify skills that may be useable in other work.

Social Security Ruling 82-41 states that “[t]he claimant is in the best position to describe just what he or she did in PRW, how it was done, what exertion was involved, what skilled or semiskilled work activities were involved, etc. Neither an occupational title by itself nor a skeleton description is sufficient.”

Use the claimant’s own job description to determine what skills have been acquired.

Step 2 – Identify the claimant’s PRW in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) to make a judgment about the level of skills the claimant may have gained. If the job description is inadequate at Step 4, the TSA will be wrong.

Step 3 – Review the claimant’s vocational factors (skill level of past work, applicability of skill, RFC, and age) to get an idea of how extensive a search you should make for other potential occupations.

Step 4 – Search for occupations related to the claimant’s PRW using the same or similar:

  • guide for occupational exploration (GOE) code;

  • materials, products, subject matter, and services (MPSMS) code;

  • work field (WF) code;

  • occupation group (first three digits of DOT code); or

  • industry designation.

Step 5 – Make a list of possible occupations, excluding any occupations that are unskilled, at an SVP higher than the claimant’s PRW, or that are not within the claimant’s RFC.

Step 6 – Compare the DOT description of duties of each of the occupations on your list with PRW duties (including composite jobs) described by the claimant.

Step 7 – Consider all relevant vocational sources and make a judgment about whether skills gained in PRW are useable in other work within the claimant’s RFC or MRFC.

Step 8 – Support your decision. If you determine skills are not transferable, briefly describe the extent of your search. If you determine skills are transferable, identify both:

  • the transferable skills; and

  • the occupations to which the acquired work skills are transferable.

    IMPORTANT: You generally must cite at least three occupations when documenting capacity for other types of work. However, you may cite fewer than three if the occupation(s) provide enough jobs that clearly there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy within the cited occupation(s). This evidence may be VS statements based on expert personal knowledge or substantiation by information contained in the publications listed in regulations sections 404.1566(d) and 416.966(d).

J. Additional tips to assist in the TSA

Skills are likely to transfer from the following:

  • highly skilled occupations;

  • occupations consisting of many separate tasks; or

  • occupations with skills applicable across a number of industries.

Skills are unlikely to transfer from the following:

  • highly specialized or technical work, and

  • work in isolated vocational settings.

1. Where to look for transferable skills

a. Only consider skills demonstrated in PRW

Skills that the claimant might have obtained from educational experiences, hobbies or interests, or volunteer work cannot be considered in a TSA. See also, Determination of Capacity for Past Work – Relevance Issues, in DI 25005.015.

b. Other factors to consider

Consider these factors in your assessment:

  • types of tasks, materials, production, processes or services;

  • types of tools or machines used;

  • composite jobs;

  • degree of judgment required beyond carrying out simple duties;

  • work-setting or industry, or both; and

  • the claimant’s description of PRW (as opposed to the DOT description).

c. Claimant’s description of PRW

Focus on the claimant’s description of PRW. For a complete definition of PRW see, DI 25005.015.

Do not do the following:

  • rely on generic occupational titles;

  • assume that an individual acquired all skills listed in the DOT occupation; or

  • disregard skills acquired that are not listed in the DOT.

2. Common jobs with skills

These skills are highly likely to transfer to other light work:

  • Auto repair

  • Cooking

  • Electrician

  • Heavy equipment operator

  • Inspecting

  • Law enforcement

  • Machining

  • Maintenance mechanic

  • Master carpenter

  • Nursing

  • Plumbing

  • Sales

These skills are highly likely to transfer to other sedentary or light work:

  • Assembly

  • Clerical

  • Supervisor

These skills that do not generally transfer to other work:

  • Nurse’s aide (skills are just barely above unskilled, but may vary among nurse’s aides). Many employers now require nurse’s aides to be certified. The certification process generally includes education and training beyond the education and time commitment required to be a basic nurse’s aide. To earn certification, nurse’s aides also need to pass a competency examination administ