The Highlands were little affected by the Industrial Revolution. Employment concentrated therefore mainly on primary industries such as farming and fishing or on service industries such as the railways. Little manufacturing was done. Today, the diversity of work available is much greater.
Many in agriculture were self-employed such as crofters and small-holders. Because farms were small and the soil poor, most needed to supplement their income. Some fished, some worked on the roads, some in hotels, some on estates.
Large arable farms offered work for farm labourers. An average arable farm would employ a grieve (foreman) and a few horsemen (1 man to each pair of horse), orra-men (general labourers) and a kitchen maid. Most lived in tied houses owned by the farmer.
Increasing farm size and the introduction of machinery resulted in a huge drop in the number of farm labourers employed. Many farms lie derelict and farm cottages converted into holiday homes.
Forestry & Estates
Highland sporting estates provided much local employment, though it was mainly seasonal. Female servants were needed in the big houses. Gardeners, foresters, gamekeepers, ghillies and beaters were also needed. With the coming of the Forestry Commission, forestry communities were set up, e.g. in Glenelg and in Strathconon.
Since the War (1939-45) estates have gone into decline and now employ few staff. Also the advent of contract work in Forestry has taken work away from the glens.
Railways were important employers in places like Inverness, Fort William and Oban. So was boatbuilding in Inverness. Inverness also had a major metal works employing many Gaels. Building hydro-electricity dams brought jobs. In the late 1960s Fort William had the pulp mill and Invergordon its smelter, but both have since closed. Whisky distilling has employed many through the Highlands and continues to do so. Oil rig construction also became a major employer in the 1970s, but has since all but gone.
Tourism continues to be a big employer in the Highlands. The spin-off from tourism also provides extra work and income to local shops and other services such as the railways and ferries. Large stores and supermarkets are big employers today, particularly in Inverness. Call centres are the latest 'trend' e.g. at Dingwall, Alness and Thurso.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
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