Overview of the business sector in the UK

Author
Jemma Smith, Editor
Posted
October, 2021

Business and management careers span a number of sectors and graduates with the right skills and qualifications are in high demand. Discover what it's like to work in a sector that boasts high starting salaries and early responsibility

According to the House of Commons Library, Business Statistics Briefing Paper, January 2021 there were 6 million businesses in the UK in 2020, 112,700 more than in 2019. 99% of these are small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs). In 2020 there were only 8,000 large businesses in the UK, but these accounted for 39% of employment and 48% of turnover.

What areas of business can I work in?

Employment opportunities in this sector can generally be split into two main areas: business management and consultancy.

You don't need to restrict yourself solely to the business sector as the majority of organisations require managers and consultants in order to operate effectively. Because of this, graduates have plenty of job opportunities to choose from.

Business managers usually work general management jobs or hold specific responsibilities for a particular area of an organisation, such as marketing, strategy planning, human resources (HR), talent management, operations management or information technology (IT). Some roles lean towards people management, while others focus on project management - but most managers need skills in both areas.

Meanwhile, consultants offer advice to organisations to help them solve problems and enhance performance. They either work in large companies or consultancy firms. Organisations can be general, specialise in strategy or offer advice to a specific industry, such as:

Work in this area is highly competitive, with firms looking for bright, high achievers, see consulting graduate schemes. However, you may find it useful to first move into a role where you can build up business knowledge and maturity before heading into consultancy.

Alternatively, consider other business jobs that offer specialist information, advice and support to companies, such as data mining or market research, or specific roles such as business advisereconomistrisk manager and operational researcher.

For examples of what's on offer, see business, management and consulting jobs.

When researching potential areas of work it's likely that they overlap with the accountancy, banking and finance sector. Professionals from both sectors work together to ensure the best outcome for the client and the lines between the two industries can sometimes become blurred.

Discover what you can do with your degree in business management.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The majority of large companies across all sectors offer business management jobs to graduates.

In this capacity you can work within the public sector, for employers such as the Civil Service, the National Health Service (NHS), which recruits candidates for its Graduate Management Training Scheme, and local government, which operates the National Graduate Development Programme.

When it comes to consultancy, large companies, particularly those in the financial sector, offer a variety of opportunities. The 'big four' accountancy firms - Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC - are among some of the most well-known organisations offering graduate consultancy roles.

Accenture, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, PA Consulting Group and Capgemini are also top-rated consultancy organisations.

Other notable consultancies include:

  • FTI Consulting
  • Grayce
  • Hymans Robertson
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Roland Berger.

Consultants can be found in other sectors too, including healthcareretail, and energy and utilities. However, these roles are often for those with expertise and experience in the specific industry, rather than entry-level graduates.

While large organisations in the sector often offer impressive graduate packages, over 99% of businesses in the UK are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), so it's worth sending a speculative application to discover what these companies can provide when searching for work.

Find out more about working for a small business.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering consultancy or business management jobs can expect:

  • jobs to be available in a number of locations across the UK, with the majority of work centred in cities such as Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and London
  • tough targets and tight deadlines
  • a varied working life that involves a substantial amount of travel, with time spent at client sites and periods away from home
  • high starting salaries, typically between £25,000 and £35,000 excluding bonuses - rising quickly to around £50,000
  • to work in a high-pressured environment, where quick decision making and confidence in your abilities is essential
  • long working hours with a focus on meeting deadlines and completing projects
  • an immediate high level of responsibility and opportunities for rapid career progression
  • self-employment or freelance work to be an option within several years.

To discover what to expect from specific roles, browse business, consulting and management job profiles.

Skills for a career in business

  • business acumen
  • commercial awareness
  • a strong understanding of functions such as finance, sales and marketing
  • high level of numeracy and data analysis skills
  • good IT skills
  • organisations and time management
  • the ability to multitask
  • effective communication skills
  • emotional intelligence
  • negotiation skills
  • the ability to lead a team
  • creative problem-solving ability
  • quick decision making
  • teamwork
  • the ability to network.

Learn more about the 7 skills for a successful management career.

Find out more

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