The role: An economist provides forecasts for and analyses of various markets ranging from employment to real estate. Their work contributes to investment and policy decisions made by governments, public and private companies and individuals. Economists work at banks, in government and for private organizations or as independent consultants.
"We look at how the markets in the economy work," says Paul Jacobson, an economist at Jacobson Consulting Inc. and president of the Canadian Association for Business Economics (CABE). "It's about transactions and markets, whether it's money or not."
Salary: Most economists make about $80,000 to $100,000 a year, but the salary can rise well beyond that, depending on the position, Mr. Jacobson says. For example, the salary range for the Governor of the Bank of Canada is $431,800 to $507,900.
Education: At a minimum, you need a bachelor's degree in economics, but most professionals today have either their master's or PhD.
"Few have just a bachelor's degree," Mr. Jacobson says. "You're going to do better if you have a doctorate." For example, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz graduated from Queen's University in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in economics, but followed that up with a master's degree in 1979 and a PhD in 1982, both from the University of Western Ontario.
By the numbers: There are about 15,000 economists and economic policy researchers and analysts in Canada, according to the 2011 National Household Survey. That's up from about 11,000 in the 2006 census.
Job prospects: Mr. Jacobson says it can be "scary" for people coming out of university today, but there are jobs for the best and brightest.
"There's enough of us retiring that young economists have a good chance," he says. Plus, younger economists are cheaper to hire and may have more technical skills than some of the older ones.
"It will never be a huge, high-demand profession," Mr. Jacobson says. "There are only so many slots. But if you've got a good degree from a good university, you can usually find a slot. You have to work hard to get there."
Challenges: Keeping up with the technical skills and staying on top of the ever-increasing number of articles and reports on the economy can be a challenge. However, Mr. Jacobson says the biggest challenge today for Canadian economists is the loss of data as a result of federal government cuts to departments such as Statistics Canada, as well as the decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census in favour of the National Household Survey.
"We've lost a lot of good surveys because of the government cutbacks … which represents some significant challenges," Mr. Jacobson said.
Why they do it: There's probably more job security and pay in becoming a plumber, Mr. Jacobson says with a laugh, adding that economists have a strong interest in policy issues and how things work. He enjoys how the profession is constantly evolving as economic trends change. "We're debating a lot of interesting issues, such as inflation, productivity and things like that … there's a dichotomy of ideas."
Misconceptions: Mr. Jacobson says there aren't many misconceptions about the job because most people don't understand to begin with what economists do on a daily basis. Some do think of the job as boring. "When people ask what I do and I say 'I'm an economist,' their eyes glaze [over] and they change the subject." Mr. Jacobson doesn't mind. "I've had a ball, and in the long run that's what counts."
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