Economists collect, study and analyse data in order to provide specialist economic advice to a range of organisations
As an economist you'll carry out research and collect large amounts of information that can cover any aspect of economic and social policy, ranging from interest rates, taxation and employment levels to energy, health, transport and international development.
You'll analyse the information using specialist software and advanced methods in statistical analysis to produce forecasts of economic trends and make recommendations of ways to improve efficiency.
These findings will be used to advise various organisations, including government agencies, economic consultancies, major companies, banks, financial institutions, higher education establishments and investment groups.
As an economist, you'll need to:
- design methods and procedures for obtaining data
- understand various sampling techniques used to conduct different types of surveys
- create, as well as use, econometric and other financial modelling techniques to develop forecasts
- carry out background research and literature reviews
- collect, sift and assemble data
- analyse and interpret the collected data to test the effectiveness of current policies, products or services and advise on the suitability of alternative courses of action and the allocation of scarce resources
- explain research methodology and justify conclusions drawn from research data
- write technical and non-technical reports and policy briefs on economic trends and forecasts
- provide economic advice to a range of stakeholders
- evaluate past and present economic issues and trends
- deliver oral and visual presentations in a way that non-economist audiences who need to make decisions can understand.
Other specific work projects may require you to the following type of tasks:
- assess the economic impact of national events on the UK, such as major sporting events
- analyse the potential job creation of inward investment projects
- analyse the efficiency of scarce resources in large organisations, e.g. the NHS
- analyse the performance of companies with a view to advising fund managers or clients on investments
- analyse the economic impact of transport infrastructure developments
- advise government, employers or trade unions on the economic implications of policy options
- produce research on the global economy to influence international economic organisations and forums
- study how exchange rates affect the competitiveness and productivity of UK and international trade
- prepare briefs for government ministers and answering ministers' questions.
- Typical starting salaries range from £25,000 to £35,000, with the potential to increase to £40,000 or more after a few years' experience.
- Salaries at senior level range from around £50,000 to more than £75,000 depending on your experience, location and the sector you work in.
- Economists' salaries can vary widely and those working in banking, the financial services industry and consulting sectors usually earn more.
Additional benefits when working for private sector companies may include bonuses and private healthcare.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours tend to be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, although your hours may be longer and less predictable to cope with your workload.
Part-time work, flexible working and job sharing may be possible, particularly if you're working in the Civil Service.
What to expect
- The work is mainly office-based and you'll often be working on several projects at once.
- London is a major financial and economic centre and offers many opportunities. However, posts are available in both the public and private sector in major cities across the UK.
- Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes an option but only after gaining a considerable track record of expertise and many years' experience. You'll need to build up both contacts and a good reputation before embarking on consultancy work.
- You may need to travel during the day to meet clients or colleagues and to attend or present work at conferences. There may be some international travel, which may include overnight and weekends on occasion.
- There are some opportunities to work abroad for a period of time if you're working in the private sector or as a diplomatic service economist for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
You'll need a good degree (a 2:1 or above) in economics, or a joint degree in economics and another subject, to become an economist. Relevant joint degrees include economics with:
- management studies
- modern languages
- international economics.
If you're completing a joint degree, you should make sure that most of your degree modules are in economics. Some employers will also look for good A-level results.
Some employers will expect you to have a postgraduate qualification, such as a Masters or PhD, in economics. It may be possible to get a job as an economist if you have a degree in a subject other than economics if you also have a postgraduate degree in economics. Search postgraduate courses in economics.
It's also possible to become an economist through joining a graduate training scheme. The Government Economic Service (GES) Fast Stream, for example, is an accelerated leadership development programme designed to develop the economic, managerial and communication skills needed to become a senior leader within the Civil Service. To join the GES Fast Stream as an assistant economist, you'll need a first or 2:1 in economics, a joint degree with at least 50% of the course modules in economics, or a postgraduate degree in economics. You must have studied both microeconomics and macroeconomics to apply.
You can also become an assistant economist for the government via its Assistant Economist Scheme.
You can also enter the profession by taking a degree-level apprenticeship in economics. You'll typically need three A-levels and strong maths skills. The GES, for example, runs a degree-level apprenticeship, which combines working in government with studying for a degree in economics.
You'll need to have:
- well-developed research skills
- the ability to extract and analyse relevant data using a range of statistical software packages
- excellent written and spoken communication skills to convey complex ideas to people with varying levels of economic expertise
- the ability to build productive working relationships and work within a team
- excellent organisational and time management skills
- the ability to work alone under pressure, often to tight deadlines
- accuracy and attention to detail
- the ability and confidence to make sound judgements and recommendations
- the ability to juggle and prioritise different tasks
- project management skills
- a genuine interest in economics and current affairs
- self-reliance and motivation
- good IT skills
- foreign language skills - can be helpful if you're considering secondments abroad.
Getting relevant work experience can boost your employment prospects. You can apply for summer placements, internships or industrial placement years to help develop your skills and build a network of contacts.
The GES, for example, offers a sandwich placement and summer vacation placement scheme aimed at students studying for a degree in economics or a joint degree where economics comprises at least 50% of the total course, and who are on track for a 2:1 or first class degree. Other internships are available at large organisations that employ economics graduates.
It's also a good idea to join student industrial societies and organisations such as The Society of Professional Economists or the Royal Economic Society to demonstrate your interest in economics and to make contacts.
The government is the biggest employer of economists in the UK and the Government Economic Service (GES) is the professional body for UK economists in the public sector with over 3,800 members, working across more than 30 government departments and agencies.
Other major financial organisations also recruit economic graduates either directly into roles or on to graduate training programmes:
- banks - for example, the Bank of England runs a graduate development programme
- financial service companies, such as insurance and accountancy firms
- consultancies - either specialising solely in economics, or in larger firms such a Deloitte and PwC, many of which offer graduate development programmes
- research and think tanks
- international organisations, also known as multilaterals or international governmental organisations (IGOs), such as UN organisations, international financial institutions, and global economic groups
- privatised utilities and their regulating bodies
- media, including financial journals, newspapers, and websites.
Look for job vacancies at:
Newspapers such as the Financial Times and Specialist economics journals are useful for keeping abreast of relevant economics affairs and may also be a source of jobs.
In general, competition for posts is fierce. Try to apply for jobs in the early autumn of your final year or as soon as the recruitment cycle begins.
Training for economists is ongoing and varies depending on the sector and type of employer your work for. You'll usually develop your knowledge on the job while working in consultation with more experienced, senior economists. This learning is consolidated through attending short courses and seminars, either in-house or delivered by external training providers. Topics such as presentation skills and report writing are common to most organisations. You may also receive formal training on new IT and statistical packages.
Graduates on training schemes will typically receive two or three years training in one or more posts. Graduates on the GES Fast Stream programme, for example, are allocated a posting for their first two years on the scheme. It's then possible to move to another area such as macroeconomic modelling, competition policy, international financial issues, housing benefits, local government finance, public health or criminal justice.
You'll need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career to keep up to date with developments in economics. Membership of professional bodies such as the Royal Economic Society and The Society of Professional Economists provides a range of training and networking opportunities.
Career development for economists varies between organisations. Within the GES, for example, entry-level assistant economists on the fast stream programme can expect to move between government departments to widen their experience. Promotion to the role of economic adviser is based upon merit and generally occurs after gaining experience, usually three to four years after joining.
Major organisations offering graduate development programmes, such as the Bank of England, encourage graduates to enhance their career development by moving between areas and roles to develop their skills and knowledge.
If you're joining the private sector, you may enter as an economic research officer or analyst before progressing to become an economic consultant or senior economist.
Alternatively, you may choose to develop your professional expertise, networks and skills by changing organisations and sometimes sectors. Not only does this add further scope and depth to your CV, it can also lead to a more varied and interesting career path. Some senior economists have started their careers in academia before transferring to industry or business, particularly after undertaking various industry-related research projects. Others will make the transition to higher education after gaining experience in industry or business.
There are also opportunities for economists to work abroad in a range of countries.