How to Work With Unskilled Co-Workers in the Workplace

It may take some time, but many unskilled workers will become proficient in their job.

It may take some time, but many unskilled workers will become proficient in their job.

It can be annoying to see a new worker come on the job and be visibly ignorant to the unwritten -- or written -- rules of the job. When you have a co-worker like this, it may be helpful to remember the maxim that Toyota used in regards to unskilled workers: "There is no such thing as unskilled labor: there is only work to which intelligence has yet to be applied."

Practice a bit of patience. If your employer hired someone unskilled for a position, chances are the employer believes the worker will be able to acquire the skills they need to eventually do the job well. Since you're not a manager or supervisor of this person, it's your job to try to work cohesively with your co-workers, and not micro-manage them. Take a deep breath and remember that once, you were likely the "newbie" who didn't know much about the job.

Offer to spend a bit of extra time with your unskilled co-worker to show her the ropes. Make a list of important duties or crucial skills involved in the position, and then go over the list with her over lunch or at an after-work happy hour. By showing some understanding and being helpful, your unskilled co-worker may feel more welcome and gain confidence in building skills.

Research training opportunities your co-worker can take advantage of, and turn her on to any paid trainings or sponsored opportunities pertaining to your line of work. Sometimes, businesses offer a tuition matching program or training sessions during various times of the year -- something a new employee may not be aware of. There may also be opportunities at your local community college or technical training center, which may offer your co-worker a chance to increase her skills.

Talk to your supervisors if you see ongoing problems related to health, safety or productivity. While you should give your unskilled co-workers some time to learn how to complete her assignments, there will be a point when she should have acquired the basic skills needed for the job. After a few weeks or months -- depending on the company and the job -- ask for a few minutes of your boss' time to share your concerns. During the meeting, describe behaviors and resist placing labels on the person; describe a certain act that your co-worker has done, instead of saying "she's lazy." Then allow your boss to deal with the matter from there.

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About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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