Skills Shortages in Essential Areas 

Recent research in the UK from the Learning and Work Institute has suggested that the UK is heading for a “catastrophic” shortage in people with digital skills.  There has been a 40% drop in young people studying IT at GCSE (taken at the age of 16). Experts argue that these digital skills are essential for the UK economy and moving forwards after the recent global pandemic. These skills shortages do not just affect the UK, but the global economy.


Recent research has suggested that there are five times more people taking courses in culture and arts than there are jobs. 


A skills shortage occurs when there are not enough trained staff willing work in a particular industry at that time.

There are not just skills shortages in the digital skills arena.  There are actually a shortage of trained staff in areas that are more essential to our health, wellbeing and actual existence – the horticultural and agricultural industries.


We need food to survive. We need plants for oxygen, shelter and fuel.  If we do not have trained people to produce the food and plants we need, the human race will struggle in the future. The charity, Oxfam, estimates that we will run out of food in 2050 when the human population exceeds the food produced. Working to prevent this happening is essential now! More trained staff are needed to fill the gaps in these food shortages in these industries.

Sue Biggs of the RHS recently stated that whilst horticulture employs over 300,000 people in the UK, 70% of businesses are currently find it hard to get skilled workers.

 Why do these shortages occur? 


  • Careers in horticulture and agriculture do not just involve knowledge of horticulture and agriculture. They also require others skills, such as knowledge-based problem solving, technical skills, adaptability and specialised skills. People may have certain skills but not all that they need to be suitable for specific jobs.
  • One critical reason for the skills shortage in these industries is the idea that they are poorly paid jobs.
  • People working in farming and horticulture are often perceived to work long hours and out in all weathers, which can again be off-putting for some.
  • Unfortunately, there is also a lack of understanding and respect for the jobs that farm workers and agricultural workers perform. Scientists or managers are generally respected for their job roles, but the same does not appear to apply in these two essential areas.
  • There are still perceptions about the type of people who go into horticulture and agriculture. Many people still have the perception that farmers walk around in dungarees all day. These misconceptions are damaging to the people working in these industries and can prevent people from seeking careers in these areas.
  • Other issues such as wars, the COVID-19 pandemic etc can affect the food that we have available. But these factors can also affect the staff available to work on farms and in horticulture. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, many people were not able to travel in the way they had done previously, which affected staff available.
  • Some aspects of the job can also be high risk, often without sufficient safety precautions put into place.



 What can we do to change these skills shortages? 

  • Research in the Farmers Guardian suggests that 16 to 35 year olds  want job security, flexibility in working hours and career progression in their job roles. This is something that horticulture and agriculture might find difficult to consider. If crops need harvesting or plants need sowing, this will tend to occur at particular times of the year. There will be certain times of the year when the demands are higher in both industries. Also, the jobs tend to be those that occur during daylight hours.  This does not mean that great flexibility could not be incorporated into the jobs, such as working certain days only, part time working etc.


  • Recognising the underpayment or poor payment of horticultural and agricultural staff is another area that should be addressed to alter the shortage of workers.

    The misconceptions about the sort of people who go into agriculture and horticulture also have to be addressed. Both careers require extensive knowledge and technical skills, something that needs to be reinforced to people looking to start their working life or seeking to start a new career.


  • It is estimated that people may have up to 20 different careers during their working lives today. Therefore, there is potential for people who are not just straight out of school, college or university to transfer to careers in horticulture and agriculture.

    However, research by The Hays recruitment agency found that for people born since the mid-1990s, a thirst for knowledge was the highest most important factor. Ensuring staff therefore are well trained on an ongoing basis is another essential area to consider in these industries.


  • Governments and the industries themselves need to work to amend these preconceptions of poorly paid and low status jobs in these essential areas.

 The Main Changes Required 

To reduce the skills shortages in agriculture and horticulture, we need to –

  • Improve the perception of the careers
  • Encourage schools, colleges, universities, training providers to deliver horticultural and agricultural qualifications
  • To encourage education providers to show the depth and variety of careers available in horticulture and agriculture
  • Work with governments, employers and industrial organisations to gain funding for more research into agriculture and horticulture

We also need to encourage more people to take courses in horticulture and agriculture. Not just as a way to get into the industries in the first place, but as a way to increase and improve their knowledge on an ongoing basis. This improves what they can do for the employer, it improves their own job and career prospects and it maintains the interests of staff in these diverse careers.


Horticulture and agriculture are essential industries. Essential for the life and wellbeing of everyone on this planet. Training in these careers gives people the opportunity to  work with nature, to work in a diverse and interesting area with great career prospects and opportunities to work around the world. 

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