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Why are Economists
in Demand?
John Sloman
Director, Economics Network
Visiting Professor, UWE
• Why is economics important?
• What do economics graduates do?
• Why do employers like them?
• What do economics graduates say about their
• What could I earn with an economics degree?
• What do students say about studying Economics?
Why is Economics important?
Because it helps us to understand many forms of
human interaction. Examples include the
production and sale of goods and services, the
employment of workers, trade between nations
and the flows of finance around the world.
It also helps us to predict the economic
consequences of human actions and thus
provides information to governments, firms and
other decision makers.
What do economists do?
Economics graduates are employed in a range
of posts which may, or may not, be related to
the discipline they studied.
They work in manufacturing, transport,
communications, banking, insurance,
investment and retailing industries, as well as in
government agencies, consulting and charitable
What do economists do?
According to Andy Ross, the Deputy Director
of the Government Economic Service, the
largest employer of economists in the UK:
“Most of the things that economists do don’t
even look like economics: adoption policy;
money laundering (detecting!) … The range of
topics is truly astonishing.”
What do economists do?
Economists help firms or the public sector in
decision making and weighing up the costs
and benefits of various policies.
• Economists often address the following issues
– The quality of education
– What you can and can’t get on the NHS and why
– Discrimination by sex, race, age, etc.
– The role of sport in society
– The value of time and even life
– The meaning of happiness and how to achieve it
– Inner-city dynamics
– Passenger safety
– How to tackle traffic congestion
– Marriage and divorce: which partner gets the most?
– Should drugs be made legal? Would it reduce crime?
– The causes and effects of social exclusion
– Immigration: does it make us better off?
– Does performance-related pay make people work harder?
– Are we taxed too much?
– Is competition always good?
– Do people gamble rationally on the
lottery and on quiz shows on television?
– What causes wars? How can we stop them?
– Why is obesity on the rise and what can be done?
– Should people be allowed to sell their kidneys?
– What is the value of education?
– How do people respond to incentives?
– Voting behaviour
– What causes social mobility or a lack
of it?
– Why aren’t there petrol stations in the
centre of cities?
– Are cities green?
– Why are cities so astonishingly productive? What are
the effects of human beings huddled together?
– Should we generate more electricity from wind farms?
– Why are there so many junk media
channels, all the same?
– Should we put folic acid in bread or
floride in water?
– Should nursery care be subsidised?
Who did the government employ to write a
report on the effects of climate change and
what can be done about it?
Answer: Sir Nicholas Stern: then Head of the GES
– Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people
around the world – access to water, food production, health,
and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could
suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world
– Using the results from formal economic models, the Review
estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of
climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global
GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and
impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could
rise to 20% of GDP or more.
– In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas
emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can
be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.
Why do employers like economists?
• Firms sometimes employ economists to make
use of specialist skills such as economic
forecasting, but they also employ economists
because the subject gives a good grounding of
• Since economists are literate, numerate and can
analyse and evaluate, they are very useful to
Source: Atkinson, B. and Johns, S. Studying Economics (Palgrave, 2001)
Why do employers like economists?
• Quote from Prospects
– Employers value:
• economics graduates' understanding of decisionmaking
• their research and analytical skills
• their experience of viewing problems in their national
and international context.
– These skills will be tested through any graduate
job selection process.
Strengths of Economics Graduates
• Analytical way of thinking
• Problem-solving
– Recognition and clarifying
– Problem analysis
– Identifying and comparing alternative solutions
to problems
• Scepticism over possible misuse of data
Economists as Problem Solvers
I’m looking for people
with joined-up thinking ...
people who think and
breathe economics.
Government Economic Service
[We’re looking for] graduates
who see economics in the world
around them and don’t need the
parameters spelt out.
[We’re looking for] an
ability to think about novel
situations in relation to
economic theory.
I need people who have
the building blocks of
economics .. who will see
a problem in terms of basic
economics and develop
analysis from there.
Greater London Authority
Economists as Problem Solvers
We employ specialist
modellers who obviously need
strong econometric skills, but
generally don't work under
time constraints, and analysts
who are required to produce
readable, accurate and precise
reports, often at very short
notice. You need to think and
to be fluent in economics.
Moody's Investors Services Ltd
What we are looking for in
Economics graduates is how they
apply economic theory to realworld problems, find the theory
and the evidence to support it
and dissect the problem before
looking for its solution.
HM Revenue and Customs
In problem-solving we are
looking to see if applicants are
able to quickly recognise
problems, clarify the problem,
analyse the problem, come up
with different options and
solve the problem effectively.
Private-sector consultancy firm
Source: Employers of Economists Survey, Economics Network, 2004
UK Employers’ Views on Graduate Skills (all graduates)
Most employers consider:
problem-solving to be a very important
attribute but one with which they are only
moderately satisfied because of graduates'
lack of real-world application.
that understanding of core principles, technical
ability, potential and willingness to learn and
continually updating knowledge are more
important than a stock of knowledge.
that graduates are not particularly good at applying
knowledge or understanding to practical work situations
because of (i) inability to improvise, (ii) lack of commercial
awareness and (iii) lack of appreciation of the human or
cultural context within which they are working.
Employability Backpack (U of Central Lancashire)
Views of Economics graduates
What did graduates like best about
studying Economics?
• Understanding how the elements of the economy fit
• It was interesting, challenging and could be applied
to real-world scenarios.
• It encompassed an enormous variation of subjects
such as maths, history, geography, politics,
philosophy and business.
• The job opportunities after
• The real-world applications. The fact that the
subject is actually useful.
• Applying concepts to real-life business issues
How do you rate your study of Economics
in developing skills for your current job?
Abstraction while retaining
Analysis of economic, business
and social issues
Organising, interpreting and
presenting quantitative data
Little or not
Not relevant
Formulating problems and
constructing solutions
Understanding / interpreting
financial matters
Strategic thinking
Communication of economic
Source: Economics Alumni Survey, Economics Network, 2005
Looking back on your time as a student and knowing what you do
now about careers and the workplace, would you still choose to
study Economics at degree level?
Source: Economics Alumni Survey, Economics Network, 2005
What can I earn by doing an
Economics degree?
• You can earn considerably more than
graduates in virtually all other subjects.
Earnings for males in 1996 (in 2007 prices)
5 years after
10 years after
Source: Belfield, C. R. et al. (1997) Mapping the Careers of Highly Qualified Workers, HEFCE Research Series,
University of Birmingham.
% premium relative to someone with two or more A-levels
Earnings premia over 2 A-levels by degree subject, 1994–2006
Source: Yu Zhu (Dept of Economics, University of Kent), based on data in the Labour Force Survey, HMSO, 2007.
What do students say?
• Two clear messages come from our surveys:
– Students like studying economics
– It gives them useful skills which will help them in
employment when they graduate
What do UWE students say?
Economics is a really useful science,
helping me understanding my
surrounding, and analysing some political
speeches and being more critical about
them, not taking them for granted.
I like the level of tutor support
and the emphasis on real world
I like the fact that we learn
how the economic market
works because it will be helpful
for me in the future.
The teaching has always
been conducted in a positive
and lively manner.
I can go and talk to my lecturers if I
encounter a problem in the subject, and that
they are always prepared to help.
Source: Student Survey, Economics Network, 2006
What do UWE students say?
Seminar classes, just
really good
Lecturers manage to maintain
interest. The enthusiasm of
lecturers is extraordinary excellent for creating a good
learning environment.
Lecture structure-easy to understand
and follow, exam and essay
proportions - gives a good chance of
getting a good grade
Seminar discussion, to learn
about other students
insights and understanding
of the subjects
I hadn't considered economics as a degree before I
came to university (I do business and economics) but
the economics part of it has been so much more
interesting than i had expected, and much more
interesting than business.
Source: Student Survey, Economics Network, 2006
What economics degrees
are available?
• Straight economics degrees, with a strong focus on
core theory, or ones that are more applied
– Most have various options in particular branches of
economics, such as environmental economics, labour
economics, public-sector economics or monetary
• Business economics degrees
• Joint economics degrees with another subject, such
as Politics, Business, Marketing, Mathematics,
Sociology, History, Geography