The Job and What's Involved

Economists study trends and solve complex problems relating to the economy. Their work can touch on almost any aspect of economic and social policy, from taxes and employment levels to energy, health and transport.

Government bodies, financial institutions and some major businesses all rely on economists' forecasts to help them plan future activities.

Economists advise on a vast range of issues. For example:

In government, an economist might assess the likely impact of a new public health policy, estimate the cost of crime, predict future crime rates or advise politicians on the economic content of speeches.

In industry, an economist might predict market trends to help a business anticipate customer demand or to inform its lobbying work with government.

In the financial sector, an economist's role might include predicting interest rates or monitoring international markets.

Economists also carry out research on a variety of topics in universities and other academic institutions.

An economist's work includes:

  • Researching and analysing data from different sources, using mathematical modelling techniques.
  • Using the findings to identify trends and predict changes.
  • Advising clients, colleagues or politicians on the merits of different courses of action, both in person and through written reports.
  • Producing material to inform the press and public about economic issues.

Economists use specialised software to assemble, sift and present information.

They may be expected to complete a project alone, or to work as part of a team that may include statisticians, civil servants, marketers and fellow economists.

Tight deadlines, political pressure and the need to juggle different projects can make the job a demanding one.

Economists work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. The hours may be longer and less predictable in some sectors.

Part-time work, flexible working and job sharing may be available, especially for economists in the Civil Service.

The work is office-based. There may be some travel to meet clients or colleagues, and to attend seminars and conferences.

Salaries for assistant economists may start at around £24,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The biggest employer is the Government Economic Service (GES), which employs 1,300 economists in many government departments and agencies. Opportunities in government have increased in recent years.

Other employers include:

  • Large urban councils.
  • Management consultancies.
  • The Bank of England.
  • Banks, insurance companies and investment firms.
  • Universities and research organisations.
  • Utility companies and regulatory bodies.
  • Trade unions, political parties and think-tanks.
  • International organisations, such as the European Commission and the World Bank.
  • Financial journals and broadsheet newspapers.

There are jobs in cities throughout the UK, with a particular concentration in London. Competition can be fierce.

Vacancies are often advertised through employer websites, or in publications such as the Financial Times and The Economist.

Education and Training

Economists must have a first degree (normally a 2.1 or higher). This is usually in economics, or a joint degree in economics and another relevant subject, such as politics, finance or mathematics. A business studies degree with a high economic content may also be accepted.

Some posts also require a postgraduate qualification. It may be possible to get a job with a first degree in an unrelated subject plus a postgraduate economics qualification.

For a degree, at least two A levels/three H grades, or equivalent qualifications, are usually required. Mathematics and economics are useful subjects, and may be preferred or required by some universities. Applicants also need five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications, including maths and English.

Ability in a foreign language may help employment prospects. It is a good idea to gain relevant work experience.

GES selects candidates to work as assistant economists in any of 30 government departments. They take on new recruits twice a year, in September and February.

The Bank of England annually recruits graduates from a range of backgrounds for its three-year Analyst Career Training programme.

In the private sector, economists often start in a junior role such as research officer or analyst.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

When they start work, new economists develop their skills while working alongside senior colleagues. They may attend short courses to learn new software packages or essential skills, such as presentation.

Some employers may help employees to fund study for a postgraduate qualification.

Recruits in the GES follow a fast-stream development programme, designed to develop their economic, managerial and communication skills, and to prepare assistants for early promotion.

All economists are expected to keep up to date with developments in economics and advances in research. The Society of Business Economists runs regular conferences and networking events.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An economist must:

  • Have well developed skills in research and analysis.
  • Be able to apply theory to real-life situations.
  • Be able to communicate clearly and effectively, and explain complex issues to people without economic expertise.
  • Have a head for figures.
  • Be confident with written reports and computers.
  • Be thorough, methodical and well-organised.
  • Be accurate.
  • Be self-reliant.
  • Work well in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Assistant economists in the GES can expect to change jobs every year or so. Promotion is based on merit. They may be promoted to economic adviser three to four years after joining.

Economists may change jobs and sectors to widen their experience, moving between higher education, industry and the public sector.

There are many opportunities for experienced economists to work abroad, with multinational companies and institutions.

Some economists become self-employed after establishing their reputation.

Get Further Information

Bank of England, Threadneedle Street,
London EC2R 8AH
Tel: 020 7601 4444

Government Economic Service (GES),
Economics in Government, HM Treasury,
1 Horse Guards Road, London SW1A 2HQ
Tel: 020 7270 5073

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, 3rd Floor,
7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE
Tel: 020 7291 4800

Royal Economic Society,
University of York, Heslington, York YO1 5DD

Society of Business Economists,
Dean House, Vernham Dean, Andover, Hampshire SP11 0JZ
Tel: 01264 737552

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