I assert that it is time we ceased using the term “unskilled labour.”
For one, I don’t think such a thing really exists in any great capacity. While there may be certain trades and tasks that take more or less time to grasp and to be able to perform at a bare minimum level, every undertaking done well takes skill. If you’ve seen a toilet cleaned to the minimum versus a toilet cleaned with skill, you know the difference. And the same holds all over, be it in service, carpentry, line work, farming, cooking, or any of the like. In addition, there are things such as communication, attentiveness, or even just being a team player, all of which are skills, developed over time, and which really muck things up when they’re not there.
For two, the term is generally used only to denigrate, equated with unintelligent, unsophisticated, or of lessor importance. More importantly, the term is used as an excuse, an excuse to treat others poorly in all sorts of ways: poorly in value, respect, and appreciation; poorly in attention and care; poorly in attitude and politeness; poorly in compensation and wages. Unappreciated and seen as a cog, whether in the home or in the workforce, the “unskilled” are paid a pittance (be it in terms of regard, respect, and appreciation or be it in terms of actual wages) and regarded as though they should be happy for their miserly sum.
It is a crappy way to treat others. And one that belies both the value of what they take on and accomplish as well as the skill and hard work it takes to do it well.*
Everything is a skill. Everything can be learned and improved. Even seemingly simple things can take a lifetime to master – including the very art of living.
Let’s honour it all.
* For the briefest of moments this year we called them what they are: essential workers.**
** The term “frontline” has now replaced “essential” and it is another obfuscation and denigration: frontline allows the vested interests (who wield the term unskilled like a club) to believe they are the generals, doing the actual important work by leading the incapable masses. It’s a falsehood and a farce, and I recommend not falling into that trap.
*** Oddly, Walt Disney, who harboured a lot of a type of skilled/unskilled contempt, actually recognized this on some level. One story in particular can be used as a guide for ourselves: When Lillian Disney heard Walt wanted to open an amusement park, she said “Why would you want to do that? They’re so dirty.” To which Walt replied, “Mine won’t be.” There it is: the (typically denigrated, ignored, and maltreated) janitors are the key to Disneyland’s success.