SSA Grid Rules: Understanding Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”)

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.

June 10, 2021

How to Use SVP to Determine SSD Eligibility

Will My Previous Work Experience Qualify Me for SSD Benefits?

When analyzing whether or not the grid rules warrant a finding of disability, you will come across the acronym SVP. SVP stands for Specific Vocational Preparation. SVP is a numbering system that is used to determine the amount of time required for a typical employee to; learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a particular job. In this blog, we will discuss how SVP is used to determine which grid rule applies. It’s probably best to start off by looking at an example of the actual grids and at the three options, we have to choose from under the Previous Work Experience (“PRW”) column. (“PRW” is used because we commonly refer to this as past relevant work despite not matching the acronyms for the column heading in the grid rules chart.) We will be using column 3, Previous Work Experience, to determine SVP.

AgeEducationPrevious Work ExperienceDecision
Skilled or semiskilled – skills not transferable
Skilled or semiskilled – skills transferable
Unskilled or None

How Do I Determine Which PRW Category I Fit?

  1. To determine which of these three categories mirror a claimant’s PRW, you must first determine what jobs count, i.e. what jobs are actually PRW.
  2. Next, you need to determine the skill levels of those jobs.
  3. Finally, you need to know if skills were obtained from that PRW and whether or not those skills are transferable to other work.

Did I Do My Job Long Enough For It to Count as PRW?

Although not SVP related, I would be remiss not to mention that in order for something to count as “PRW”, it needs to have been performed in the last 15 years. If it has been performed in the last 15 years, you need to have done a particular job long enough to have actually learned it. If you did not do the particular job long enough to learn it, it will not count as PRW. It will be treated as though you never did the job at all. This is where SVP comes in. SVP 1 jobs are the simplest, while SVP 9 jobs are the most complex. The simpler the job, the easier it is to learn how to perform it. The following chart shows the SVP level and the amount of time it takes to learn how to do a job at a satisfactory level.

SVP LevelTime
1Short demonstration only.
2Anything beyond short demonstration up to and including 1 month.
3Over 1 month up to and including 3 months.
4Over 3 months up to and including 6 months.
5Over 6 months up to and including 1 year.
6Over 1 year up to and including 2 years.
7Over 2 years up to and including 4 years.
8Over 4 years up to and including 10 years.
9Over 10 years.
In addition to time on the actual job, at the higher ends of the skill level, a decisionmaker will need to count education when determining whether or not a claimant did a job long enough to learn it. Per the Department of Labor, a 4-year college degree is equal to 2 years of SVP and each year of graduate school is equal to 1 year of SVP.

Example Scenario

Let us work through an example of when you would combine education and work experience to determine if the durational requirement of a job was met. We will use the job of an elementary school teacher.

  1. First, I googled, “Dictionary of Occupational Titles Elementary School Teacher” and found this page.
  2. As you can see at the bottom of that page, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles assigned an SVP of 7 to elementary school teacher.
  3. Looking at the chart above we can see that it takes about 2-4 years to learn this job.
  4. If the teacher has a 4-year college degree, which counts for 2 years of SVP, a masters degree, which counts for 1 year of SVP and 1 year of teaching experience, the adjudicator would determine that the claimant did the job long enough to learn it unless there was evidence to the contrary.

Was My Past Work, Unskilled, Semi-Skilled or Skilled?

In short, unskilled work is SVP 1 and 2. Semi-skilled work is SVP 3 and 4. Skilled work is 5 and above. You can use this information to classify your past work. For instance, in our example above, the teacher position, which has an SVP of 7, is considered skilled work. This is all you really need to know to classify PRW; however, the following definitions are worth at least being familiar with.

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).

Semi-Skilled Work

The definition of semi-skilled work does us very little good. Semi-skilled jobs are more complex than unskilled work and less complex than skilled work. SSA will say that semiskilled jobs ‘may require alertness and close attention…coordination and dexterity…as when hands or feet must be moved quickly to do repetitive tasks.” The easiest way to determine whether or not a job is semi-skilled is to look it up in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and find the SVP number.

Skilled Work

Skilled work requires high levels of judgment and adaptability. It involves setting goals or making plans. One must be able to understand, carry out and remember complex instructions. These jobs encompass abstract ideas and problem-solving. Finally, skilled job functions require 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. Armed with the knowledge of which jobs are PRW and the skill level of that past work, a determination as to the transferability of skills must now be made.  

Do I Qualify for SSD Benefits?

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Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

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