Role profile: economist

Economists lead on analytical projects and influence policy decisions using in-depth economic theory and analysis.

You are just as likely to move across specialisations as you are to move up within your existing specialisation.

You can find more information about Government Economic Service (GES) roles and skills in the GES Competency Framework.

Typical role responsibilities

The role responsibilities for economists are different depending on the level of the role.

Placement students

These are sandwich course students who take an academic year away from university to work in the role of a government economist. They will work in the role for 12 months. The aim of a placement student is to take on  a job role that is at a comparable level to an assistant economist.

At this level you will:

  • learn to apply economic concepts, tools and methodologies to a range of practical, real-world problems
  • be given wide development opportunities – these can vary from communication with important stakeholders, to leadership skills, to statistical software training

Different roles at this level need different skills. They also provide opportunities for the development of a range of new skills, including technical skills and soft skills. Depending on their role, placement students may be:

  • involved in policy analysis
  • preparing assessments of effectiveness for policy or legislative changes
  • helping to prepare briefing notes and submissions to ministers
  • preparing forecasts to feed into fiscal events, such as the Autumn Statement or Budget

Every role is dynamic and changes throughout the year because of changes in the political climate, and how the placement student develops as an economist.

GES Degree Level Apprentice (GESDAP)

The GES offer an opportunity for people to start their economics career journey in government through the GESDAP. Apprentices join a four year programme where they get first-hand experience of how government works and how policies are made. 80% of apprentice time will be spent working, while the remaining 20% will be spent studying.

By working as a GES apprentice you will use and develop your skills in:

  • manipulating and presenting data – these are known as quantitative skills
  • writing and presentation – this includes communicating economics clearly and succinctly to senior officials and ministers
  • using economic insights to inform decisions on anything from the environment to transport – these are known as applied economics skills

You will also be enrolled on a degree course which covers microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics. At the end of four years apprentices are economics graduates with excellent work experience.

You can find more information on GES Apprentice role responsibilities in the GES Technical Framework.

You can find more information about the latest recruitment round for apprentices on GOV.UK.

Assistant economists

At this level you will learn to apply economic concepts, tools and methodologies to a range of practical, real world problems. You will develop your skills in effectively communicating analysis to a range of customers and stakeholders, including non-analysts. This involves communicating technical concepts in plain English.

Different roles at this level need different skills. They also provide opportunities for the development of new skills. You may be working on a range of projects, including:

  • economic appraisal for investments
  • preparing assessments of effectiveness for policy or legislative changes
  • preparing briefing notes and submissions to ministers, or work on a range of  projects.

Economic advisers

Economic advisers work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure evidence-based decision-making is at the centre of policy design. They also work to effectively communicate economic concepts to non-economists.

Economic advisers are responsible for producing results and managing team performance. They place a high importance on quality and prioritising work streams as needed. The technical skill requirements for this role can vary. For example, some economic advisers will need to apply core economic theory than others. Some economic advisers may also have more people management responsibilities than others.

Senior economic advisers

Senior economic advisers often lead larger teams of economists or multidisciplinary teams working on a portfolio of related analytical projects. They use both in-depth economic theory as well as the insights gained from other analytical professions.

At this level, you will work with analysts from other professional disciplines and may be asked to manage them. You will take a leading role in working with relevant stakeholders to ensure evidence-based decision-making is at the centre of policy design.

You will produce results through Grade 7 led teams by seeing the connections in your work and understanding the wider context. You may do less analysis yourself at this level. But you will be more likely to be involved in wider decisions about prioritising work streams and staff resources.

Chief economist

An Senior Civil Service (SCS) grade chief economist has a greater amount of leadership and management responsibilities compared to the previous grade. They will also have a higher level of  engagement with ministers, the executive team and the permanent secretary. This means that a chief economist may not use economics as much in their role. Instead they will concentrate on how economists can work effectively with other professions, and how to make the best use of economics.

In this role you will set the strategic direction for analytical teams, and align work to departmental and ministerial priorities. You will concentrate on making the case for economics in the policy-making process. You will use your broad understanding of economics and your experience to best advise on how to deal with problems. You will also use your experience to quality assure work.

Sample career path

The economist career path shows some of the common entry and exit points for the role. It also shows the typical skill levels needed.

You can enter an economist role from another analytical profession, or from other professions. You can also exit the role to join another profession.

The diagram shows a potential career path. It shows that you can enter or leave a role from a wide range of backgrounds and experience levels. For example, you could become an economist by developing your skills on a student placement. You could continue to move up the levels in the career path by taking on more senior economist roles. Or you could develop your skills by working in a technical specialist role in an analytical or digital profession. You could also develop the necessary skills by working in a profession agnostic role outside of these professions.

A role that could be done by any person with the relevant skills or experience from any profession.

This could be a ‘badged’ or professional role that is subject to entry requirements and development.

Beyond the director general role, you could go into more senior leadership roles. These roles require broader analytical understanding, and the ability to lead multi-disciplinary teams.