Skills shortage ‘holding back IoT adoption in agriculture’

The agricultural sector’s position at the vanguard of adopting Internet of Things technologies could be threatened by a shortage of workers with relevant skills, a new report warns.

‘The Future of IoT in Enterprise’ is based on independent research commissioned by Inmarsat, the leading provider of mobile satellite communications services. It claims that while the vast majority of agritech companies are moving towards IoT, a significant proportion lack the staff and skills needed to take advantage of opportunities it offers.

Farmers are leveraging these technologies to dramatically improve the efficiency and precision of their operations, for example by automating irrigation systems so that water is only delivered to where it is needed and optimising fertilisation to improve yields.

Of the 100 large businesses from around the globe who responded to the Inmarsat survey, over 46 per cent reported full deployment of IoT solutions and a further 16 per cent claim to have initiated a partial deployment. Many, however, said they currently lack the skills needed to do so effectively, with 55 per cent admitting to having shortages of staff skilled in cyber security and 53 per cent saying they need more with experience in data science and analytics.

There’s also a need for a skills uplift at the strategic level, where 65 per cent of respondents identified a shortfall, as well as the management and delivery of IoT deployment, where over 50 per cent of respondents said they lack staff.

Chris Harry-Thomas, Inmarsat’s director of sector development for agriculture, said the IoT’s position at the frontline of what has been described as ‘the Fourth Agricultural Revolution’ is creating skills requirement.

“With the digital transformation in full swing, many traditionally mechanical-physical industries, such as agriculture, find themselves in a race to recruit digital specialists to support their IoT ambitions,” said Harry-Thomas. “Competing with the likes of Silicon Valley tech companies for skilled staff will be a challenge for the agritech industry, but as these businesses look to take on the burden of data security to build market share in the agriculture sector, it is critical that they recruit staff with the capability to do so.”

The long-term solution may be for companies to focus on establishing strategic third-party partnerships with IoT specialists, he suggested. “With greater economies of scale, specialist partners can draw together complex IoT solutions across multiple communication networks, including satellite and cellular data, to deploy sophisticated, automated IoT networks across the agricultural industry.”

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