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Tell me about it
Economists provide specialist advice based on the application of economic theory and knowledge to practical problems. They carry out research, collect and analyse data, monitor economic trends and develop forecasts for future activities. Typically, economists are involved in studying the distribution of scarce resources such as land, human labour, raw materials, money, goods and machinery.

Areas of economic research include labour market intelligence, local government finance, energy costs, public health, property, inflation, taxation, interest rates, the impact of globalisation on developing countries, and imports and exports.

Most economists are concerned with the practical applications of economic policy. They use their understanding of economic relationships to advise businesses and other organisations including insurance companies, banks, security firms, industry and trade associations, unions and government agencies.

Entry level
To work as a professional economist, you would need a good (first or upper second class) honours degree, usually in economics although a joint degree may be acceptable as long as economics forms the major part. You may find it useful or even essential to continue your studies with a postgraduate award before seeking employment. Similarly, you should consider joining a professional organisation such as the Society of Business Economists or the Royal Economic Society in order to receive their journals and attend their programme of events. The Government Economic Service (GES), the largest single employer of economists in the UK with well over 1,000 economists in 30 departments and agencies, runs a 'fast track' programme for selected graduates and also a Diplomatic Service scheme through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

A second degree may be a requirement when applying for posts with businesses, banks (including the Bank of England) and financial institutions.

Making the grade
Many employers support or encourage part-time study for postgraduate courses.

You could join the GES, for example, as an assistant economist, training on the job as you help with projects under the supervision of experienced economists. You would normally be based in a department for at least two years, before moving between departments to get more experience. You should progress to become an economic adviser, with the possibility of further promotion to senior economist and a few higher posts.

The Bank of England is another major employer, followed by other banks and financial institutions, large companies, consultancies and other organisations. With experience, you could progress to senior levels or choose to become a self-employed freelance consultant. Training is usually on the job in other organisations, through reading relevant literature and attending short courses, conferences and seminars.

Personal qualities
As an economist, you would need excellent research and analytical skills, together with the ability to read and understand figures, graphs and charts. Logic and accuracy would be extremely important, along with advanced IT skills.

You must be organised and able to work under pressure.

Looking ahead
Competition for economist posts is very fierce. To make matters worse, public spending cuts mean a significant decrease in the number of GES vacancies in 2011.

The Bank of England employs around 200 economists, almost all of whom are trained to Masters and PhD level. They work primarily within the Monetary Analysis and Financial Stability areas. Other banks and financial organisations employ economists to advise on policy, loans and investments, and provide economic advice to customers. There are many other areas in which economists can find employment – in  development agencies, large local councils, independent economic institutions, management consultancies, the media and EU institutions, for example – but you may need a lot of experience, a second degree or a foreign language.

A small number of large companies employ their own economists, mainly to act as business analysts and to advise on strategic policies, for example regarding the company's relationship with government.

Most jobs are based in London, with others in the major cities of the UK.

Alternative suggestions
Other possibilities might include accountant, actuary, banking executive, chartered secretary, civil servant, financial adviser, mathematician or statistician

Take-home pay
In the GES, salaries vary across departments, but the average starting salary in London is about £25,000 a year. A higher starting salary may be paid to those who hold a postgraduate qualification.

Economists working in banking, financial services, industry and consulting sectors are usually better paid, with reported salaries up to £350,000 alongside good benefits packages.

Economists tend to work normal office hours, although you might have to work late to meet project deadlines.

Sources of information
Society of Business Economists:
Government Economic Service:
Royal Economic Society:
Bank of England:




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