Dos and don’ts for using labour market information in your career decisions

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Job market data can tell you about employment trends but not which careers you personally could succeed in. Here’s how to put labour market information in context.

Tempted to embark on a career path that doesn’t really excite you because it appears to offer good employment or salary prospects? Don’t! A genuine interest in your career will make it much easier for you to succeed. Take a look at our dos and don’ts to help you use the facts and figures on employment to your advantage.

Do… remember that motivation plays a big part in success

Career success requires motivation. For higher-level jobs, gaining qualifications may involve going to university, where students will be expected to be independent learners and how hard they work is up to them. Or it might involve studying while working, putting in extra hours at home in the evenings and at weekends. For some careers, such as medicine, it is necessary to do both.

To get a first job in many areas, recruiters look not only for certain grades but also for relevant experience gained outside of formal education, for example via clubs and societies, positions of responsibility, personal projects, internships or part-time work.

Career progression once in work often requires a proactive, motivated approach. Climbing the career ladder can be quicker if workers put themselves forward for new projects and responsibilities, actively seek out new roles, keep up to date with developments in their field and are seen as being enthusiastic about their work. This can involve putting in extra hours and being willing to travel or move to different places.

You’re much more likely to do all of this if you’ve chosen a career that suits your strengths and that you can find genuinely satisfying.

Do… be aware that averages hide lots of variation

Average figures are just that. Don’t assume, for example, that an engineering graduate who becomes an engineer will earn more than an English graduate who becomes a City lawyer, even though engineering degrees rank higher than English degrees for average salaries. Likewise, don’t assume that a graduate who uses their degree to work for a local newspaper or museum will earn more than a successful chef or plumber who trained via a level 2 or 3 NVQ, even though graduates earn more on average.

The specifics of your particular subject, university, grades and extracurricular activities will all have an influence on your employment prospects, while the precise type of job and employer you choose will have a big effect on salary.

Do… challenge your assumptions about education and training

Labour market information can help you challenge assumptions. For example, you might assume that going to university is always better for your career than alternative routes. However, some non-graduate jobs are currently in high demand, and higher apprenticeship holders are projected to earn more in total over their working lives than graduates from non Russell Group universities. Think through your choices.

In terms of degree subjects, you might think that all graduates from disciplines such as computer science or engineering are snapped up by employers. This isn’t the case, so think about other factors such as which course and university to select, getting the best grades and gaining extracurricular experience.

Part of the gender pay gap may be down to different career choices. If you’re a female student, investigate your options fully and ignore stereotypes of what different jobs involve, what skills they require or what jobs men and women enjoy. Don’t write off careers such as finance, IT and engineering without knowing what’s involved and if they might suit you. They can offer an excellent intellectual challenge – and sometimes a creative one too – as well as being well paid.

Do… look at the data if you’re making tricky decisions

Information about the job market may also help with making choices between equally appealing career or subject options. If you’re struggling to choose between job areas or degree courses that would be equally enjoyable, you might find it helpful to see which ones are associated with the highest salaries or lowest unemployment rates.

Do… take inspiration if you need career ideas

Why not take inspiration from the different careers we’ve mentioned? For example, perhaps you read through the skills shortages information and realised that you’d never looked into healthcare careers, or that you don’t really know what nuclear decommissioning involves. Now is a good time to find out.

Don’t… assume that the future will look like the past

Job market information shows what has happened in the past. It isn’t a crystal ball to predict the future.

Economies run in cycles and some industries, such as construction, are particularly sensitive to upturns and downturns. This can result in jobs and training places being cut in times of recession and skills shortages emerging during boom times.

Longer term changes can take place regardless of the economic cycle. Jobs in a particular field can move abroad or become less numerous as technology changes. Public sector jobs can be cut by government. Changes in immigration can affect whether roles can be filled by workers from overseas.

Skills shortages, as the name suggests, are typically about the need for staff with qualifications and experience under their belt, rather than new starters. By the time you’ve gained these, the picture may have changed.

Don’t… overlook bottlenecks

In a related vein, there may be skills shortages at senior levels in a profession but bottlenecks further down. For example, the UK Visa Bureau has previously listed consultant doctors in various specialisms as skills shortage areas. However, competition is tough to get into medical school and even once doctors have a degree it can be a challenge to get a training place in their desired specialism or location.

Don’t… assume that gender pay gaps mean discrimination

Choice of job and employer within a career area may explain part of the gender pay gap. For example, the difference in male and female pay among full-time workers may be partly explained by different employment choices. Looking at law, for instance, solicitors working on child protection cases will earn a lot less than solicitors working in banking law. Child protection law tends to attract more females than males; banking law tends to attract more males than females. If you’re worried about discrimination, look carefully into areas that interest you instead of being put off by statistics.

Don’t… be put off university if it’s the right choice for you

One of the reasons why school leavers consider an apprenticeship rather than university was not wanting to get into debt . It’s natural to worry about these things but if you’re attracted to going to university or to career options that require a degree, think about how your concerns balance out against the benefits.

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