12 Great Career Areas You’ll Be Astonished to Learn Have Skills Shortages

San Francisco in the clouds

We’re all used to hearing about the fact that the UK has a shortage of science teachers, and the general shortage of graduates with science degrees is well-publicised. But there are some less obvious areas of work currently suffering from skills shortages, and being aware of them could help you find a quick way into a job after you graduate. The occupations (and minimum salary estimates) on the UK part of this list all come from a Government-approved list of shortages, and should give you some food for thought as you ponder which direction you’d like your career to take. Towards the end, we’ve also covered some areas in which there are skills shortages overseas, for those of you who would like to experience living abroad.


In the UK

1. Musicians

Image shows San Francisco with cloud partly obscuring the Golden Gate Bridge.
Top-notch musicians are required in the UK.

Given the prevalence of aspiring pop stars, it may sound surprising that the UK has an official shortage of musicians – but those in short supply are of a rather different (and, some might say, somewhat more skilful) variety. Orchestral musicians are officially in short supply – and specifically, those who are of a sufficient standard to grace the stage in the company of the country’s best orchestras, such as the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. In particular, it’s the stringed instruments that are in demand, especially those who are good enough to take the role of leader, principal or sub-principal. We suspect, however, that it’s not so much that there aren’t enough high-quality musicians out there, but that as far as UK immigration is concerned, the more the merrier! The pay may be poor (a minimum of around £16,700), but if you’re passionate about music, you’ll have the satisfaction of earning money from doing what you love. And, of course, orchestral playing could be supplemented with teaching your instrument and giving solo recitals. If you’re planning to head to university to study music (rather than attending a music college such as the Royal Academy of Music), pick a course that has a focus on performance if you think this might be the career for you – and work your way up the ranks of the university orchestra.


2. 2D and 3D animators

Image shows a famous animator speaking to a class at film school.
Being an animator could be a fun and creative career.

If you’ve ever contemplated a career in video games or animation, you’re in luck: this is another area in which there is a shortage of suitably qualified individuals. Within the television, film and video games sectors, there is demand for software developers, games designers and shader writers in visual effects and 2D and 3D animation. In case you’re wondering what a “shader writer” is, these are the people who are responsible for characterising textures, colours and so on, turning virtual shapes into realistic objects and surfaces. As a new entrant to this career you can expect to earn around £22,800, while experienced animators earn a minimum of around £29,600 or more. If you’re imaginative and want to turn ideas into (virtual) reality, this could be the perfect career for you – especially if you’re already a big “gamer” or film fanatic yourself.


3. Certain medical specialisations

Image shows a black and white photo of a tiny baby grasping an old man's hand.
The UK needs specialists both in neo-natal care and in old age psychiatry.

When you hear scary statistics about there being eleven or more applicants for every single place to study medicine at university, it may come as a surprise to learn that there is a shortage of certain kinds of medical specialists. The main areas with skills shortages are emergency medicine (including accident and emergency specialists), haematology (the study of blood and blood-forming tissues) and old age psychiatry. These areas need more consultants, while anaesthetics, rehabilitation and psychiatry also need non-consultants. In nursing, there’s a shortage of nurses specialising in neo-natal care – that is, the specialised nurses who care for babies who have been born prematurely or with some kind of illness. Salaries vary according to whether you’re a consultant or not; doctors who specialise in a certain area will earn a minimum of around £37,000, while for consultants that minimum rises to around £75,000. Entry-level specialised neo-natal nurses start by earning around £16,200, while experienced nurses can even earn as much as consultants.


4. Aircraft maintenance

Image shows a man working on maintaining the underside of an aircraft.
Maintaining aircraft is a position of huge responsibility.

You don’t have to be a plane spotter to get into the world of aviation, but a love of aeroplanes definitely helps. And if you’re searching for a career that involves planes, but you don’t quite fancy the lifestyle of a pilot or cabin crew, a role in aircraft maintenance might suit you down to the ground (so to speak). There’s a shortage of licensed aircraft engineers and inspectors – the people responsible for fixing aircraft faults, performing regular checks and services, and making sure that every last nut and bolt is fastened and secure, ready for a safe flight. You can expect a minimum salary ranging between around £15,500 when you start and £27,000 once you get a bit more experienced (much more than this if you move to a more senior level), and you’ll probably need a degree in aeronautical engineering to get you started. Though it’s usually a 9 to 5 job, engineers working for airlines could find themselves on call around the clock, as it’s vital for airlines to keep aircraft serviceable in order to operate to tight schedules.


5. Nuclear waste management

Image shows a nuclear power plant at night.
The safe disposal of nuclear waste is an ongoing problem.

The disposal of nuclear waste probably isn’t something you’ve given much thought to before, but it’s someone’s job to sort out a safe way of getting rid of radioactive material so that it can’t harm humans, animals or the environment. It may not sound like the most glamorous of jobs, but working in nuclear waste management has its advantages. There’s a shortage in director-level staff, which means that if you choose to enter this industry, you may find that you can quickly move up the ranks to a more senior (and therefore more well-paid) position, such as managing director, programme director or site director. Though starting salaries in this sector may be low (a minimum of around £15,000), more senior employees can expect to earn a minimum of £37,000.


6. Physical scientists for oil and gas

Image shows a pump on an oilfield.
Working in oil or gas gives great opportunities for travel.

The oil and gas industry is in need of various kinds of geoscientists, who help them identify areas in which oil and gas may be present and interpret seismic data during the exploration process (among other things). Geologists, geophysicists and geochemists are all in demand in this sector, and it’s a good career if you’re keen to jet off to some exotic locations, such as the Middle East or North Africa, where your knowledge will help support the exploration and development activities of companies such as Shell. Expect a minimum starting salary of around £21,000, and much higher than this once you’re more experienced. At time of writing, on the Oil Careers geologist jobs board there’s a senior geophysicist post going for £85,000.


7. Social workers

Another area in the UK job market with a shortage of skills is social work, primarily within the children’s and family services as opposed to adult services. You’ll need to be a ‘people person’ and community-oriented to undertake this kind of work, as it involves supporting vulnerable families and protecting adults and children from domestic abuse and other such threats. Dealing with difficult people will likely be part of your day-to-day activities. It’s a challenging area of work, and depending on the exact nature of your position, you may be required to work some nights on a rota. Starting salaries are usually around £19,000, but this can rise to £26,000 and then as much as £40,000 with experience.


Beyond the UK

Britain isn’t the only country with a shortage of skills in certain areas; in fact, there are even more professions with skills shortages in other countries. If living abroad is one of the items on your bucket list, there are plenty of occupations that will give you the skills needed to gain a visa more easily.


8. Australia – just about everything

Image shows Sydney Bay, with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the foreground.
Australian immigration can be tough, but gets easier if you have skills.

Judging by its official skilled occupation shortages list, there seems to be a shortage of just about every occupation in Australia. Jobs on the list of skills shortages include architects, accountants, vets, engineers, teachers of children with special educational needs, dentists, numerous other medical positions, midwives, barristers and solicitors, and many, many more. If you have skills in any of the areas on this list, but you’re finding it difficult to get work in the UK, you never know – you might have more luck if you head down under.


9. New Zealand – medical professionals, lecturers and more

According to New Zealand Immigration’s Long Term Skill Shortage List, occupations for which there is likely to be a long-term demand include engineering, university lecturers, external auditors, anaesthetists, cardiac technicians, clinical psychologists, GPs and a great many other medical professionals, social workers, vets, and numerous other occupations. New Zealand is a country of immense natural beauty, so it would certainly be a pleasant place to live and work if you’re at the start of your career in one of these professions and want to build up experience in a country in which there’s less competition for jobs.


10. The USA – computer programmers

Image shows the sun setting over San Francisco Bay.
You could work in Silicon Valley.

The USA operates the H1-B visa scheme for those wishing to work in the USA who hold certain technical qualifications and expertise. The list includes numerous professions, including various medical professionals (including surgeons, dentists and nurses), architects, journalists, lawyers, accountants and scientists. While this list doesn’t necessarily imply a shortage of skills in these areas, the fact that US immigration takes into account certain occupations at all shows that holders of these occupations are seen as assets to the country. One area in which there is a known skills shortage in the US is IT, with computer programmers particularly sought-after. If you hold a degree involving computing and/or you’re a knowledgeable coder, you stand a better chance than many of securing a much sought-after US work permit – and a job.


11. France – web developers

In common with many countries, France hasn’t quite caught up with the Internet boom, and it’s left the country with a shortage of IT professionals. Web developers with skills in programming languages including Oracle, PHP, SAP, Java and Linux are in hot demand, but there are also analyst jobs that need filling, such as data and systems analysts. If you have web development skills and a computer science degree, and you’re also an aficionado of fine food and wine, you could do a lot worse than seeking work in France. We should add that, as with most other places (it would seem), France is in need of engineers and nurses as well.


12. Hong Kong – construction industry

Image shows the illuminated skyscrapers of Hong Kong at night.
34.9% of the population of Hong Kong has English as a second language.

With an increasing amount of investment pouring into mainland China and Macau, Hong Kong is now facing a skills shortage in the construction industry as it intensifies its own infrastructure development. Those with the relevant skills are being lured away from Hong Kong by higher salaries in China and Macau, but it’s thought that the resulting demand for adequately-qualified individuals in Hong Kong will push salaries up. Quantity surveyors and project managers with architectural backgrounds are two key occupations in which there is likely to be a shortfall, so if you’re about to finish a degree in architecture, there could be an opportunity awaiting you in Hong Kong if you think you can handle the culture shock.
As you can see, the job market isn’t quite as difficult to conquer as you may be imagining. While there are some professions that are over-subscribed and highly competitive, there are plenty of others in which the competition isn’t between candidates – it’s between employers. Choose your degree carefully, and you could be one of the lucky graduates over whom employers fight. If you’re interested in any of the professions on this list, select a degree accordingly and increase your chances of landing a job still further by undertaking relevant work experience and internships while you’re still at university. A combination of a sought-after degree and a strong CV should make you irresistible to employers in any profession, but to those on this list, you’ll be a dream come true.

Image credit: banner; orchestraanimator; baby; aircraft maintenance; nuclear power; oilfield; Sydney; San Francisco; Hong Kong.