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Rural Employment

Find out more about rural employment by clicking on the subheadings below.

Rural and Island Challenges

Although each locality inevitably has its own mix of successes, there inevitably are a number of specific challenges and difficulties that present in rural and island communities in Scotland. Formed in March 2011, the National Delivery Group: Rural Sub-Group have identified the following issues:

Equality of access and opportunity

Income and area deprivation measures, such as the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) , suggest that there are lower levels of poverty and areas of deprivation in rural Scotland. With poverty measures focusing on income, as opposed to outgoings, it is possible that they are masking the extent of rural poverty. Though rural households may have higher incomes and are likely situated in less deprived areas, there is compelling evidence that many rural households are at risk of poverty due to the notably higher cost of living. Research suggests that rural residents are paying considerably more for fuel. food, clothing, household goods, transport and housing.


Getting to employment is often one of the most significant barriers for clients in rural Scotland. Distances to workplaces can be significant, which has time and cost implications. Public transport is often only a limited service which may not be available at the times which work is available. Often there will be no public transport between the locations required. In some cases ferry travel, whether to/from the mainland or in the form of inter-island travel can provide a significant barrier or result in the requirement for overnight stays. In order to overcome some of these burdens, it becomes much more of a necessity in the rural and island context to own a car, where car ownership might be seen as more of a choice/luxury in urban areas.

Nature of employment

The highest rate of part-time workers can be found in remote rural areas. This is likely because employment in rural areas is often seasonal, temporary or part-time due to the rural economy depending heavily on tourism, food processing and primary production. Consequently the level of pay associated with these positions is often low. Women are considerably more likely than men to work part-time in all areas of Scotland, and annual pay is lowest for females living in remote rural areas. Employees in remote rural areas, particularly women, are more likely to have a second job.

Access to Further Education / Higher Education (FE/HE)

Clients' ability to access FE or HE facilities is often limited in rural areas compared to the facilities available to those living in larger urban areas and cities. There are FE institutions in most local authority areas, but distance and travelling time is again a challenge for many clients. Additionally, the challenges of accessing remote/blended learning opportunities are greater in rural and island context, where broadband connectivity may not be as reliable and consistent.

Dependence on Micro-businesses

The business base in rural Scotland is not just based on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME). The vast majority of businesses in rural areas are Micro-businesses (with 9 or fewer employees).

Employment sectors

Generally there is a less diverse range of job opportunities in rural areas with a dependence on retail and hospitality sectors. This does vary from region to region. The public sector often provides the most attractive employment opportunities in rural areas. Public sector opportunities may also be less prevalent in rural and island settings – particularly away from the main towns and economic centres of these communities.

Employment opportunities

The very small size of most rural businesses means that they take on fewer new employees and are also less likely to have the appropriate management capacity to support those employees in the workplace.

Limited pool of businesses with capacity to absorb client group (risk for SME)

The very small size of most rural businesses means that they have less capacity to take on employees where those employees may require extra support and guidance in the workplace.

Cost of providing services can be high

Through experience, rural local authorities recognise that providing services in rural areas, particularly the more remote areas, can be more expensive than in other locations. Economies of scale that can be achieved in cities and urban areas are not available. It is especially important in rural areas to work in partnership with local agencies and actors to make most efficient use of the resources available.

Scale and economies of scale

The level of service provision required in many rural areas is relatively low (relatively small numbers of clients). These clients are often dispersed over significant geographic areas, with poor road/transport links. Local agencies and partnerships need to work together to deliver the services required in the most efficient way possible.

Where to deliver services

Services will often need to be delivered over large, sparsely populated geographic areas. Commonly used data sets will often be ineffective in assisting the service provider in identifying problem areas or clusters. Close working with local authorities and Community Planning Partnership partners will ensure that all available local data/intelligence is available to help appropriately target resources.

Childcare issues

Access to childcare can be a limiting factor for people taking up employment opportunities, starting a business or being able to travel for employment services/training. For women in particular, the ability to increase work hours or to enter/remain in work at all, can be dependent on the availability of flexible working and affordable and convenient childcare. Rural areas have the lowest rates of out of school care services. Further information on this can be found in The challenges of rural childcare provision, innovative models and the needs of agricultural families research report.


Since the outbreak of the (COVID-19) pandemic, learning, training and working practises have taken a significant online presence. This provides challenges for rural and island communities where broadband and superfast broadband rollout is not (yet) as comprehensive as in urban areas. Addressing this imbalance will in the fullness of time provide considerable employment opportunities in these communities, particularly if this was in conjunction with a de-centralised/online employment strategy across both the public and private sector; this could significantly increase the average salary and contribute to repopulation work in these areas. Further information on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found in the Understanding the response to Covid-19: exploring options for a resilient social and economic recovery in Scotland’s rural and island communities research report.

Research and Learning

There is a wealth of research and evidence based around the challenges that rural areas face. Here you will find some of the key documents in this area.

RESAS Rural Scotland – Key Facts

Rural Scotland Key Facts compares and contrasts circumstances in remote and accessible rural areas to the rest of Scotland. It covers key topics such as People and Communities, Services and Lifestyle, Economy and Enterprise.A page-turner version of the publication is available at Rural Scotland Key Facts 2021 (

Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland

Scotland’s rural economy has an important role to play both through the significant contribution it makes to national economic output but also in providing employment opportunities for people living in our country’s rural, remote and coastal communities.

We know that people are key to driving forward our rural communities – making them sustainable and inclusive places to live, work and thrive.

The Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland seeks to ensure that we have the right people with the right skills and support inclusive growth by focusing on five priority areas for action:

Regional Skills Assessments

Regional Skills Assessments (RSAs) are a single, agreed evidence base created to inform future investments in skills. The RSA for Rural Scotland covers the 15 local authorities identified in the Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland and provides the latest labour market intelligence for rural areas.

Women in Agriculture Taskforce – Final report

Women have always been an integral part of Scottish agriculture. The industry could not survive without the contributions of women, whether working on farms, crofts and small holdings; supporting their families; or being involved in the wider rural economy. However, research shows that women’s work can be undervalued, downplayed, or simply unseen. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon established the Women in Agriculture Taskforce in summer 2017 in response to the publication of the Scottish Government funded research report, ‘Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector’.

The Taskforce identified key themes from the 2017 research and one additional theme (the Equality Charter) on which to make practical recommendations: leadership; training; Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture; childcare in rural areas; succession; new entrants to farming; health and safety and crofting.

Skills Investment Plans

On behalf of the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland worked with Industry Leadership Groups and other key industry players to develop these plans. They were created through a process of labour market and skills supply research and analysis, industry consultation and action planning with industry and partners across Scotland’s education and skills system.

Each SIP is tailored to the needs of the sector. Sectors covered are: Construction; Creative Industries; Early Learning & Childcare; Energy; Engineering; Financial Services; Food & Drink; Historic Environment; ICT & Digital Technologies; Life & Chemical Sciences; and Tourism.

Regional Skills Investment Plans for Edinburgh and South East Scotland, Highlands and Islands, and Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire have been published, with Skills Investment Plans for further regions to follow.

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