Skills Audit

In 2006, an audit was commissioned by the BSPP Board in response to a perception by members that the nature of employment within the profession was changing and that employment opportunities were declining. The purpose was to undertake an audit of BSPP members working in the sub-disciplines of plant pathology, to collect information on training and employment records and where possible to draw comparisons with the situation 10 and 20 years previously. The process involved collection of data through on-line questionnaires for members, phone questionnaires with employers and through a review of job advertisements in New Scientist. More than 120 respondents (approximately 20% of the membership of the Society) completed the on-line questionnaire and 15 organizations took part. Surveys were conducted between September 2006 and January 2007. The audit was undertaken by Professor Geoffrey Dixon during my tenure as President and I want to express my thanks, on behalf of the BSPP, for the work he has diligently undertaken.

Peter Mills President BSPP 2006

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Main Findings of the Skills Audit

The number of students graduating with a higher degree and entering employment in the discipline of plant pathology has increased over the last 30 years (based on respondents currently employed).

Whilst the number of organisations employing plant pathologists has also remained fairly stable over the last 15 years, the distribution of posts across these organisations has changed very significantly.

A small proportion of organisations now employ larger numbers of pathologists. Current posts are more likely to require competence and knowledge of molecular biology skills rather than applied skills.

UNDERGRADUATE TRAINING: The number of respondents with degrees entering the profession per decade appears to have remained constant between the 1970s and the end of the 1990s. First degree topics covered a wide range of applied biological or plant science subjects from 31 educational institutions.

POST-GRADUATE TRAINING: More than 90% of BSPP members are educated to higher degree level. The total number currently employed in the profession with post-graduate training appears to have increased in each decade from the 1970s onwards.

CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (CPD): More than one third of respondents have undertaken some form of CPD with the British Agrochemical Supply Industry scheme (BASIS) being the most commonly undertaken training.

POST-DOCTORAL RESEARCH: More than 60% of respondents have undertaken at least one period of post-doctoral employment of which more than 40% have undertaken 2 or 3 periods.

PERMANENT EMPLOYMENT: Approximately 80% of respondents are now employed in 'permanent' posts and based on the year in which these respondents were appointed it would appear that the number of permanent posts continues to increase. These data may however be interpreted in other ways.

EMPLOYERS: Fifteen organisations took part in the survey of employers. The business sectors covered by these organisations included education, research (applied through to basic), regulatory science and service provision. Eleven organisations reported a decline in the number of plant pathologists employed over the last 15 years. Four organisations reported an increase in the number employed over the same period.

SKILLS: The fit of skills required by employers and those identified by the respondents is good in terms of academic qualifications. However, more detailed analysis of employer requirements identified some demand for competencies in whole organism biology and also bioinformatics and business skills.