News from the Economics Network

For the RES Newsletter, October 2012, Online Issue 3

Economics Graduates’ Skills and Employability

by Dr Inna Pomorina

In February 2012, the Government Economic Service (GES) and the Bank of England hosted an event which
explored economics teaching and learning in UK universities in the wake of the financial crisis (see RES Newsletter, No 157). As a follow up to this event the Economics Network agreed to survey and interview employers, to explore their views on graduates and the skills they require for the world of work. The survey was partially funded by the Higher Education Academy and forms part of a continuing research project into the effectiveness of learning and teaching in Economics HE. The results of all the surveys in this project are available on the Economics Network website: www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/projects/surveys.htm.

It is interesting to compare the results of 2007 employers’ study with the current one. Due to the big differences in the employers’ organisation distribution between 2007 and 2012 surveys we believe that full comparison is inappropriate. At the same time the results on knowledge, understanding and skill requirements of graduate appointees from both studies have many similarities. In 2007 the need to develop ‘communication’ and ‘application’ skills by economics graduates was often mentioned by the employers, as well as graduates’ preparation for interviews. The same skills were rated as very important by four out of five employers in 2012. It should be stressed that all employers in the survey and interviews were able to select the best graduates in this very competitive job market and their replies relate exclusively to those graduates who passed a very rigorous screening process. The study found that employers clearly value economics graduates and the skills and knowledge they bring to the workplace. The results show that respondents employ economics graduates, above all for their ‘knowledge and understanding of economics’, as well as for ‘the work they are required to do’ and the ‘skills they bring with them’.

Important skills and knowledge for graduates
Both ‘analysis of economic, business and social issues’ and ‘communication of economic ideas’ are perceived as ‘very important’ by 80.0 per cent of respondents, while the ‘ability to organise, interpret and present quantitative data’ and ‘abstraction (the ability to simplify complexity while still retaining relevance)’ are rated ‘very important’ by three quarters. These findings mirror the discussion at the GESBoE conference, where such skills were highlighted as essential for graduates who are prepared for the workplace.

With regards to knowledge, the majority of respondents perceive a grasp of ‘opportunity cost’, ‘social costs and benefits’, ‘incentives and their effects’ and ‘microeconomics of decision-making and (constrained) choice’ as ‘very important’, while more than a quarter believe that ‘stability and instability of the economy and markets’ and ‘equilibrium and disequilibrium’ to be of ‘little or no importance’. Respondents provided a lot of advice to students, which will be added to the http://www.studyingeconomics.ac.uk site. Among the suggestions were the following:

  • Don’t be narrow in thinking or reading. Economics, sociology, behavioural science, history, mathematics, philosophy, physics, biology all offer important thinking to economists.
  • I would recommend taking a History of Economic Thought module if available. Understanding of core theory, and where the rest of theory comes from, why we do or don't think certain models are relevant, is hugely important (and often overlooked in favour of complex mathematics).
  • Get used to talking about economics and applying the general principles to new issues. Practice written explanations of more complex economic concepts for non-economists, being clear and easy to follow but not patronising! If you’d like to discuss the issues raised in this study

and/or would be interested in receiving further advice and support on how to develop students employability skills, please contact Dr. Inna Pomorina at Economics Network inna.pomorina@bristol.ac.uk.


The New Lecturers’ workshop
This is a two-day residential workshop aimed at new and early-career economics lecturers. The focus of the workshop is to discuss and evaluate what makes effective teaching of economics: including lectures; seminars and small-group teaching; assessment and feedback; e-learning; module/unit design; classroom experiments and games.

Feedback from our 2011 programme (11 workshops, over 220 attendees):
‘It’s been a brilliant few days. Useful to think about the issues discussed - with no pressure to adopt — and to be able to talk them through in an encouraging environment. I would recommend this to all new lecturers and maybe even a few of the older ones! Thanks to all!!!’

‘I will definitely use some of the tips for making lectures more effective. I will try to use games. I will look at the technology available out there and see what / how I can use it.’

‘Some gems of information provided: online seminars, online quizzes, teaching not coverage matters. Plan to put more though into how to present material.’

From issue no. 159, October 2012, pp.6 and 10

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