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What makes someone an expert in a subject? In his provocative book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes a combination of different things, but almost always requires 10,000 hours of practice, regularly and repetitively doing, improving, being criticised and redoing something. For most people in full time jobs, this equates to around 10 years of practice.
To most people this sounds like a long time, but in practice most people can see that experts are usually those who have been working at a high level for more than 10 years, and whilst some have quibbled about whether it is exactly 10,000 hours, about what an 'expert' is and the contribution this practice has on becoming really successful, few could argue that high level skills take time to develop. Undergraduate and postgraduate education certainly help, but clearly few students are studying for more than 10 years at university.
In recent years, particularly in Europe, there has been a shortage of true graduate jobs (meaning jobs which actually use graduate level skills). As markets have contracted, some employers have concentrated on retaining older skilled staff, often educated in the 1970-1980s rather than taking on new graduate staff. These develop into skill shortages as people stop studying these subjects at university because there is a shortage of graduate jobs. Eventually as the older professionals die or retire, there is a skill gap.
At one time, there was a priority in many western countries to join-up technical and research skills learned at university to results on the farm. There was seen to be a need to promote and educate farmers into best practices, to assist them when things went wrong and to support the whole industry. However, successive governments have not seen this sector as a priority. This has led to the selling of government-owned research farms, the closure of university departments, the change in focus of university courses and a lack of specifically educated graduates. Departments that remain tend to focus very narrowly on very specific research, graduates who remain in the subject tend to be recruited into universities. Those who cannot get jobs in universities tend to move into other areas. It is now difficult to even get a university education in many of these areas in Europe.
This means there are currently chronic shortages in:
- Soil Science (specially practical knowledge transfer)
- Agricultural Chemistry
- Agricultural Mechanics
- Drainage and Irrigation
As older staff retire, they are often not replaced.