Video - Career choices: What does an economist do, exactly?
What do I want to be when I grow up?
During a #SavvyTeenAcademy course, we spend a fair amount of time discussing careers. Teenagers think a lot about 'what they want to be when they grow up', but it can be difficult to decide on a career, or even a sector, when you have had very little experience of the workplace.
That experience of the workplace could have been through summer jobs. Or it can also be limited to the jobs you see people holding around you: what your parents do, what their friends do. Some of these jobs might interest you, but more often than not they're a very small sample of what is out there.
What does an economist do?
The funny thing is that adults, too, can be stymied by jobs they're not familiar with. Like 'economist'. What does an economist do, exactly? How does knowledge of economics translate into a paycheck?
Susan was interviewed on Newstalk by Bobby Kerr, who asked that exact question. Watch Susan's Facebook Live video below to learn what careers you can have as an economist - and there's a full breadth of opportunities. From speaking at conferences, to helping a company decide on future strategy, to shaping public policy, an economist can have many different roles.
Susan was interviewed in 'Down to Business' on 5 May 2018. Listen to the podcast of the radio show below or listen to the audio clip here.
Careers at Savvy Teen Academy
At #SavvyTeenAcademy, teenagers have the opportunity to ask all the questions they have about jobs and careers. When you're nearing the end of secondary school, there is a lot of pressure to choose a course of study, first for your Leaving Cert, and then at University. Where are the well-paying jobs? What are they? What subjects should you study to get those jobs? But what if you hate those subjects?! At #SavvyTeenAcademy, we help our attendes find their own answer to these questions, and more.
Even if you have absolutely no idea what you want to study yet, or what job you would like - especially if you have no idea! - #SavvyTeenAcademy is the ideal place to brainstorm ideas, discover your unique skills and interests, and find a course of study and a potential career that you are actually excited about. Instead of being afraid that you will make the wrong choices and that you will end up in a career you hate, you will be looking forward to studying subjects that play to your strengths and prepare you for a richly rewarding career.
So, Susan, what does it look like to have a career as an economist?
How do economists make a living?
There are a range of ways to work as an economist today: identifying economic trends for a company, gathering and analysing data for an organisation, observing macro-economic trends for the country, teaching economics - these are just a few.
In my case, I have a speaking and training business specialising in economics, entrepreneurship and the financial markets; I'm also a co-author of Positive Economics, the market-leading Leaving Cert economics textbook.
How do you market yourself as an economist?
As in any other industry, you have to stand out: you need to be different. I'm known as "The Positive Economist", because I focus on the opportunities in any economic context, even one that is rife with difficult challenges. My tagline is "Positivity Rooted in Practicality".
I speak at conferences and events around the world to identify the possibilities in trends. For example, Brexit is very much on people's minds at the moment. Businesses that trade with the UK are worried that Brexit is going to affect them negatively and make business very difficult. Recently at the All Island Dialogue conference on Brexit, I discussed the range of supports available to businesses to get help to navigate Brexit, expand into the Eurozone and Asia, as well as how to model your company's situation to find out how much risk Brexit exposes you to.
I spoke at the Davy Group in Dublin about the particular economic situation that women face regarding their finances. Many women in Ireland, regardless of their current financial situation, face similar problems: they don't have enough money put aside for their pension, they will very likely outlive their male partner, and they are less engaged in the financial markets than men. As a result, their financial future in old age can be very uncertain. As an economist, I looked at these issues in detail, and I gave the women in attendance practical steps they could take to protect themselves.
The week before I was speaking to several groups in Hong Kong about the European market. It's a very attractive market: it has 282% of the world's average GDP per capita, 505 million people and is currently worth €14.8 trillion. There are a plethora of opportunities for business people in Hong Kong, and I listed them for my audiences.
I could go on and on....
What are the biggest challenges for economists?
Economists need to have detailed knowledge of economic theory to understand the world's economies. However, it's very important not to get bogged down in the theory: you don't want to lose sight of the practical. I could always find raw data to back up or to refute any claim, but the analysis of the data is what underpins the narrative. Analysis requires perspective and context. It's very important to actively seek out the views that contradict yours. An economist should make sure that her position is solid and can be defended against objections. If objections reveal that your position is not accurate, you have to take these objections on board, dig deeper and revise your position to make it stronger.
In addition, I believe that economics is a very interesting lens with which to look at any issue, and it adds a lot of value to so many conversations at a strategic level. It is paramount to turn those insights into actions - what you want to avoid is "paralysis by analysis".
What are the most common misconceptions around the job of an economist?
"You have to analyse every piece of economic data that's published."
You couldn't possibly!! It's impossible to even entertain the idea. Many economists read the synthesis developed by other economists, we identify the gaps in the synthesis, or we apply those insights to a specific context, or we look for supplemental data that will give us a more accurate picture of a given economic context.
"There aren't any jobs as an economist and it's safer to be an accountant."
"Data scientists" are more and more popular and in-demand. An ability to understand and process complex data, and to envision a course of action based on the data is an extremely precious skill that is highly relevant in today's workplace. The skills and aptitude of an economist and an accountant are immensely different, but sometimes they're lumped together because they're both "something to do with numbers"!
"If you put every economist end to end around the world, you still wouldn't come up with a conclusion"
This joke has so often been levelled at economists! Economists always try to give an accurate, nuanced account of highly complex situations. That's why we often use the words "on the other hand...", and to an audience of non-economists, it might sound like we're staying firmly "on the fence" about pressing issues, not able to recommend one course of action over another. However, if we really didn't come up with conclusions, if we really remained on the fence, then this industry would have died centuries ago! What is so important is to identify the key practical nuggets of actionable information.