Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Big Wide World - What does 2012 hold for the jobseeking scientist?

Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at the Higher Educations Careers Services Unit
rexfeatures_1463807b.jpg(Engineers and IT workers are unlikely to be the unemployed superheroes of 2012. Image: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features)

I don't like futurology. I like to make statements backed up with evidence, not speculation. Besides, if you make predictions, all that happens is you get things wrong and people laugh at you.
These are my excuses. Because here's how the UK graduate jobs market for scientists is looking for 2012. This piece is essentially a mixture of literature review, trend analysis and sheer, downright gut feeling based on experience. You can't do a rigorously evidenced piece about the future - it would be violating causality, and the editors here really don't like that. The piece is here to be picked at and disagreed with - if you know better about your sector, pitch in. Information is most useful when it's shared.
Anyway, hands up if you think this is going to be a light-hearted, feel-good romp? Some mining engineers in the house, I see. Put your hands down, chemists.
As we're all doubtless aware, the UK economy is not in the best shape right now, and there's debate about whether we're already in another downturn, whether we're about to be, or whether we're going to bypass one, with constantly-evolving economic data cited in all directions. What we do know is that the economy isn't great and doesn't look likely to improve much in 2012. Internationally, there's ongoing concern about the health of various European economies and the consequences for the Euro, whilst there are rumblings of issues in the Chinese economy. I'm not going to speculate about whether there's going to be a Euro collapse and so on - I don't know, and nor does anyone else, and obviously if something like that happens, the picture will change significantly.
But how is all of this affecting science graduates? Well, last year saw the jobs market start to improve for engineers, but tighten for physical scientists and biologists, with a bit of a jump in unemployment rates. This was also the case for doctoral graduates in science, with fewer PhD holders entering much of the private economy, with drops in employment in chemicals, the pharmaceuticals industry and in basic R&D (apart from engineering). However, there were increases in management consultancy, computing and digital consulting and in education and public administration.
Much of these trends seem set to continue. The most recent advice from the Bank of England suggests that engineering and IT might be looking up, and organisations like the IT services provider the FDM Group are making optimistic noises about graduate recruitment this year. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical industry in the UK didn't enjoy a very bright festive period and suffered badly as a result of the recession in the UK. The new High Fliers report suggests that graduate recruitment into the industry has fallen by over 4 per cent since 2007.
The larger pharmaceutical organisations look unlikely to increase employment over 2012. The same cannot necessarily be said for smaller businesses (SMEs) and with an increased focus on these companies, they may be an alternative to larger R&D organisations for scientists looking for work.
Engineers, however, may have a happier time. This is an industry that was hit particularly badly by the recession, with mechanical, civil and chemical engineers all seeing the jobs market worsen significantly. But the data coming back from employers suggests that the engineering labour market is improving, particularly for manufacturing, with even a suggestion of difficulties recruiting for some specialist firms. Some of the news from the oil and gas, and mining industries are also positive, and last year, geology graduates willing to travel were amongst the highest graduate earners of all. The messages from telecoms and utilities are also mixed, but currently reasonably positive. So we're looking at a gradual recovery, but a jobs market that is still nowhere near the strength it was before the recession.
Meanwhile, the jobs market in academia is also uncertain. Cuts in UK Government spending will obviously have an effect, but at the same time, we're into the long-anticipated period when many academics who got their positions at times when the university system was expanding are reaching retirement, so there may be more options around than some might fear. As always, though, these opportunities will be fiercely contested.
Physical scientists may find that the job market related to their field of study gets tougher and that they have to explore other options, whether it be in a smaller business or another sector of the economy.
But even if you have your heart set on a particular kind of job, with even an average new doctoral graduate likely to have around 40 years of work ahead of them, you can always try something else before tackling your chosen industry when you're in a better position to do so - either because you have more and better experience or because the market has improved. Because, after all, here's one prediction for 2012 that is definitely going to be correct - the majority of science graduates will get jobs, the majority of those who get jobs will get ones at graduate level, and you will almost all get good careers in the end - even if they might not be in something you considered while you were at university.
Happy (slightly belated) New Year.
How accurate do you think Char

No comments:

Post a Comment