Economists collect, study and analyse data in order to provide specialist economic advice to a wide 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 in order 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.

Responsibilities

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, which non-economist audiences must be able to understand in order to inform decisions.

Specific work projects could include:

  • assessing the economic impact of national events on the UK, such as major sporting events
  • analysing the potential job creation of inward investment projects
  • analysing the efficiency of scarce resources in large organisations, e.g. the NHS
  • analysing the performance of companies with a view to advising fund managers or clients on investments
  • analysing the economic impact of transport infrastructure developments
  • advising government, employers or trade unions on the economic implications of policy options
  • producing research on the global economy to influence international economic organisations and forums
  • studying how exchange rates affect the competitiveness and productivity of UK and international trade
  • preparing briefs for government ministers and answering ministers' questions.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range anywhere 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 in excess of £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

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).

Qualifications

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:

  • finance
  • law
  • management studies
  • mathematics
  • modern languages
  • politics
  • international economics.

If you're completing a joint degree, you should make sure that the majority 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 direct appointment on the Mainstream.

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.

Skills

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, especially if you're considering secondments abroad.

In general, competition for posts is fierce. Try to apply for jobs in the early autumn of your final year, as soon as the recruitment cycle begins.

Work experience

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 in their penultimate year of undergraduate study who are on track for a 2:1 or first class degree.

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.

Employers

The UK's largest recruiter of economists is the Government Economic Service (GES). The GES is the professional body for UK economists in the public sector and employs over 1,500 economists working across more than 30 government departments and agencies.

Other major financial organisations such as the Bank of England also recruit economics graduates onto graduate training/development programmes.

Other employers include:

  • privatised utilities and their regulating bodies
  • larger local authorities
  • regional development agencies
  • higher education institutions (for economics lecturer roles)
  • management consultancies
  • specialist economic consultancies
  • banks (high street and city)
  • insurance and accountancy firms
  • trade unions
  • political parties
  • international organisations such as the United Nations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Red Cross
  • financial journals and newspapers.

Look for job vacancies at:

The national press and specialist journals also advertise opportunities.

Professional development

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 usually be expected to have a postgraduate degree such as an MA, MSc, MBA, MPhil or PhD in economics. In some cases, employers will help fund such courses and provide study leave. A number of universities run Masters degree courses specifically in business economics or in business administration (MBA).

You'll need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) throughout your career in order 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 prospects

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 wide range of countries.

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