ⓘ Deskilling


ⓘ Deskilling

Deskilling is the process by which skilled labor within an industry or economy is eliminated by the introduction of technologies operated by semiskilled or unskilled workers. This results in cost savings due to lower investment in human capital, and reduces barriers to entry, weakening the bargaining power of the human capital. Deskilling is the decline in working positions through the machinery introduced to separate workers from the production process.

Deskilling can also refer to individual workers specifically. The term refers to a person becoming less proficient over time. Examples of how this can occur include changes in ones job definition, moving to a completely different field, chronic underemployment e.g. working as cashier instead of accountant, and being out of the workforce for extended periods of time e.g. quitting a position in order to focus exclusively on child-rearing. It can also apply to immigrants who held high-skilled jobs in their countries of origin but cannot find equivalent work in their new countries and so are left to perform low-skilled work they are overqualified for. This can often be the result of problems in getting foreign-issued professional qualifications and degrees recognized, or discriminatory hiring practices that favor native-born workers.

It is criticized for decreasing quality, demeaning labor rendering work mechanical, rather than thoughtful and making workers automatons rather than artisans, and undermining community.


1. Examples

Examples of deprofessionalization can be found across many professions, and include:

  • assembly line workers replacing artisans and craftsmen
  • doctors; the M.D. is being replaced by "Health Care Providers"
  • bank-clerks being replaced by ATMs
  • pharmacists
  • nurses
  • automatic espresso machines replacing skilled baristas
  • social workers
  • shop workers
  • librarians
  • teachers
  • CNC machine tools replacing machinists

2. Impact

Work is fragmented, and individuals lose the integrated skills and comprehensive knowledge of the crafts persons.

In an application to the arts, Benjamin Buchloh defines deskilling as "a concept of considerable importance in describing numerous artistic endeavors throughout the twentieth century with relative precision. All of these are linked in their persistent effort to eliminate artisanal competence and other forms of manual virtuosity from the horizon of both artist competence and aesthetic valuation."