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Economist: Job description

Case studies

Research fellow in health economics: Patrick

Economists provide specialist advice based on the application of economic theory and knowledge. They do this by studying data and statistics and using their understanding of economic relationships to uncover trends, carrying out considerable amounts of research and collecting large amounts of information. They then analyse all the data they have amassed to assess feasibility, produce forecasts of economic trends, determine the implications of their findings and make recommendations of ways to improve efficiency. Economists use specialist software and advanced methods in statistical analysis to assemble, sift and present this information, which is then used to advise businesses and other organisations, including government agencies.

Typical work activities

Areas of research can cover any aspect of economic and social policy, ranging from interest rates, taxation and employment levels to energy, health, transport and international development. Tasks typically involve:

devising methods and procedures for obtaining data; understanding various sampling techniques that may be used to conduct different types of surveys; creating, as well as using, various econometric modelling techniques to develop forecasts; understanding and interpreting data; analysing data to test the effectiveness of current policies, products or services and advising on the suitability of alternative courses of action and the allocation of scarce resources; explaining research methodology and justifying conclusions drawn from research data; providing economic advice to a range of stakeholders; evaluating past and present economic issues and trends; writing various technical and non-technical reports on economic trends and forecasts to inform the press and public; delivering numerous oral and visual presentations, which non-economist audiences must be able to understand thoroughly in order to inform decisions.

Specific work projects could include:

assessing the economic impact of national events on the UK, e.g. the London 2012 Olympic Games; analysing the potential job creation of inward investment projects; analysing the efficiency of scarce resources in large organisations, e.g. National Health Service (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, e.g. the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the G-20 (which replaced the G8); studying how exchange rates affect the competitiveness and productivity of UK and international trade; preparing briefs for government ministers and answering ministers' questions.

Economist: Salary and conditions

Range of typical starting salaries can be anywhere from 25,000 - 35,000, rising to up to 40,000 with a few years' experience. Graduate starting salaries are generally average or above average. Range of typical salaries at senior level/with experience, e.g. after 10-15 years in the role: 50,000+. In some private sector roles this could be a considerably higher figure. Economists' salaries can vary widely and those working in banking, the financial services industry and consulting sectors usually earn more. Working hours tend to be 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, as the workload can be uneven, hours may be longer and less predictable. The work is mainly office-based and conventional office dress is expected. Part-time work, flexible working and job-share may be possible, particularly for those working in the Civil Service. Self-employment or freelance work is sometimes an option but only after gaining a considerable track record of expertise and numerous years' experience. You will need to have built up both contacts and a good reputation before embarking on consultancy work. London is a major financial and economic centre and as such offers many opportunities in the field, but posts are available in major cities across the UK. Opportunities to work abroad include the post of a diplomatic service economist for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), or working in the private sector. The work can be stressful due to tight deadlines and often having to work on several projects at once.

Some travel within a working day may be required to meet clients or colleagues and to attend conferences. Presenting work at conferences is also common. Occasional absence from home overnight or overseas travel may be required.

Economist: Entry requirements

Entry is possible with a degree in economics (2:1 or above) or a joint degree including the following combinations:

economics and/with management studies; economics and/with law; economics and/with politics; economics and/with finance; economics and/with mathematics; international economics.

Graduates completing joint degrees should ensure that the majority of their degree modules are in economics and that they have studied both microeconomics and macroeconomics. A good honours degree in another subject may allow entry to the profession but only after completing a postgraduate economics qualification. Some employers will also look for good A-level results. Entry is not possible without a degree or with an HND/foundation degree only. A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is desirable. A Masters degree in economics may improve your chances. A number of universities run Masters degree courses specifically in business economics or in business administration (MBA). Potential candidates will also need to show evidence of the following:

well-developed research skills including the ability to extract and analyse relevant data to make sound judgements; skill with statistical information; 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 to juggle and prioritise different tasks; a genuine interest in economics; self-reliance and motivation; good IT skills.

Foreign language skills can be helpful, especially for economists considering secondments abroad. In general, competition for posts is fierce and candidates should apply in the early autumn of their final year as soon as the recruitment cycle begins. Join student industrial societies and organisations such as the Society of Business Economists or the Royal Economic Society to demonstrate your interest in economics and to make contacts. Work experience, and particularly that carried out in an economics department, will improve your employment prospects. Speculative approaches can be worthwhile in addition to applying to advertised vacancies and the Civil Service. Many employers value the skills and qualities gained from previous experience, particularly from the accountancy or finance sectors.

Economist: Training
Training for economists is ongoing and will vary depending on the type of employer and sector. New economists develop their knowledge on the job while working in consultation with more experienced, senior economists. Attending short courses and seminars, either in-house or delivered by external training providers, is a feature of most economists' careers. Topics such as presentation skills and report writing are common to most organisations. Economists may also receive formal training on new IT packages and statistical programs. Possession of higher-level qualifications is increasingly expected and many employers encourage economists to enrol for postgraduate degrees, such as an MA, MSc, MBA, MPhil or PhD. In some cases, employers will help fund such courses and provide study leave. Depending on the organisation, economists are often encouraged to become members of professional associations. As with all professionals, economists are expected to be self-motivated in their continuing professional development (CPD) and to keep up to date with developments in economics. This means that, in most cases, they will have the autonomy to manage their own training and development needs, according to their own (and their employer's) individual career contexts.

Career development
Career development for economists varies from organisation to organisation. Within the Government Economic Service (GES) for example, entry-level assistant economists can apply to join a fast-stream development programme designed to develop their economic, managerial and communication skills. During the first few years, assistant economists can expect to move jobs

every year or so and move between government departments to widen their experience. Promotion to the role of economic adviser is based upon merit and generally occurs after gaining substantial experience, usually three to four years after joining. For those joining The Bank of England , all graduates will join the Analyst Career Training Programme, which lasts for three years and includes on-the-job training, development workshops, seminars and other relevant training. Graduates are encouraged to enhance their career development by moving between areas and roles. Those joining the private sector may enter as economic research officers or analysts before progressing to become economic consultants or senior economists. At PriceWaterhouseCoopers , graduates can choose between 'generalist' or 'specialist' training routes, depending on their area of interest. In business, economists often work closely (or at least indirectly) with senior-level staff. With experience, opportunities may arise for entering management at a strategic or operational level. Alternatively, economists may choose to develop their professional expertise, networks and skills by changing organisations, and sometimes sectors. Not only does this add further scope and depth to an economist's CV, it can also lead to a more varied and interesting career path. Some senior economists may 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. In an increasingly globalised world economy, career development opportunities for economists are no longer limited to the UK or European market; many transnational corporations (TNCs) provide a broad range of opportunities for economists to work in different countries.

Employers and vacancy sources

Economists are employed in both the public and private sector. The Government Economic Service (GES) is the UK's largest recruiter of economists, with over 1,400 professionals in more than 30 departments and agencies, and recruiting around 120 assistant economists annually. The Bank of England also recruits graduates for its three-year Analyst Career Training Programme. Other employers include:

other government departments and think-tanks; privatised utilities and their regulating bodies; larger local and metropolitan authorities; regional development agencies; higher education institutions (economics lecturers); management consultancies; specialist economic consultancies; banks (high street and city);

insurance and accountancy firms; trade unions; political parties; international organisations such as the European Commission and the United Nations; financial journals and newspapers.

WHY I AM AN ECONOMIST (SIGH) By Paul Krugman Writing an introductory textbook has some perhaps unexpected side effects. By forcing you to go back to basics - to explain to an audience of young people why economic theory is useful and important - it also makes you think about why you yourself went down that path. And so the other day I found myself in a reverie about the choices I myself made, all those years ago. (Was I also trying to avoid working on the task at hand? Of course). As an undergraduate, I wasn't especially interested in economics per se: I was interested in History, in understanding the fate of empires and the destiny of kings. But I settled for something far narrower. Why? I asked myself this slightly rueful question while revising my exposition of the Ricardian model of land rent. Every economist knows it: peasants cultivate the best land first, then the next best, and so on. Competition among the landowners ensures that each peasant gets no less than what he could grow on the best uncultivated land; competition among the peasants that he gets no more. It's a beautiful example of economic reasoning in action. But as I was rewriting the chapter section, I had a sudden fantasy vision of a bright but cynical undergraduate declaring that this was nonsense, that the landowners would conspire to keep the peasants down. And that undergraduate would, historically, often - but not always - have been right. Indeed, my old teacher Evsey Domar wrote a classic paper arguing that serfdom and slavery often were the response of ruling classes to labor shortage. Thus Russia imposed strict restrictions on the mobility of peasants from the late 16th century onward, precisely because the availability of rich new farmland on the expanding frontier would otherwise have increased their bargaining power against landlords. (The frontier expansion itself was probably the result of the growing effectiveness of firearms, which turned the military balance against the steppe nomads; so gunpowder, which contributed to the rise of the bourgeoisie in the West, created serfdom in the East). And, of course, slavery - which, along with serfdom, had died out in the West during the labor-abundant high Middle Ages - was reintroduced in the land-abundant conditions of the New World. On the other hand, of course, it has not always worked that way. England's peasants were not reenserfed after the Black Death drove up their wages; attempts to build a system of indentured white servitude in America failed; slavery was abolished; and in the modern world wages do more or less reflect marginal productivity.

Now suppose I were to ask the question, why does a labor shortage sometimes lead to a rise in wages, sometimes to political action by the ruling class to keep the lower orders in their place? And I won't be satisfied with a narrative about what happened in some specific case: I want a widely applicable model, like Ricardo's model of land rent. That is, I want a framework that is more than an after-the-fact rationalization of what we already know happened. But of course there is no such model. Worse yet, not only don't I know of any such model, I don't even know how one might begin to create one. My perplexity is not, I believe, a reflection of my ignorance of political science, or sociology. Economists may make lots of bad predictions, but they do have a method - a systematic way of thinking about the world that is more true than not, that gives them genuine if imperfect expertise. (That is also, of course, why lay commentators and other social scientists tend to hate them). Other social sciences haven't yet found anything remotely equivalent. Oh, there are bits and pieces, and some of them are very exciting; try taking a look at Robert Axelrod's stuff. But basically when it comes to most of the questions that I am really interested in, one man's view is as good as another. When I was young and naive, I used to imagine that my career as an economist could eventually branch out into one as a general social scientist. And I still love to read and think about the broader questions - a book like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel can keep me happy as a clam for weeks. But the clarity and power of economic analysis can spoil you: once you have a taste of what it means to have a really insightful model, you tend to be inhibited about looser speculations. The truth is that other social sciences are still waiting for their Adam Smiths. Someday they will find them; as Colin McEvedy wrote in his introduction to the Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, "History being a branch of the biological sciences, its ultimate expression must be mathematical." But for the meantime I guess that I am stuck with my day job.