Any Safe Bets In The Job Market?

I’ve recently done a talk to the MBS Masters postgrads on careers in the economic downturn, and I tried to cover “what’s hot and what’s not” in the job market, and realised it just isn’t that simple.

The easy ones are areas like investment banking, although some retail banks are still advertising. However, even in the investment world, eFinancial Careers still has a few vacancies on their website. You won’t find some of the big names there now, but they wouldn’t have been advertising in March in any other year, as their graduate and internship programmes generally fill up before Christmas.

Construction and property have been hit very hard – but some multi-disciplinary engineering consultancies, such as Faber Maunsell and MottMacDonald have advertised or re-advertised with us since Christmas.

Retailers are struggling – but Aldi, Matalan and the Co-op have booked to come to the Graduate Recruitment Fair in June.

Luxury goods are suffering from a lack of investment bankers (and others with spare cash and the confidence to spend it) – but Abercrombie & Fitch are coming to the Fair in June (maybe ex-bankers are trading down to “casual luxury” now they’ve got time on their hands).

As you can see, you’ll find examples in most sectors of organisations bucking the trend. However, here are my suggestions of how to spot the safe(-er) bets.

  • Public sector – whether it’s the Civil Service (the Treasury and Foreign Office are both coming to the Fair in June), Health Service, education, the police (eg. current IT vacancy) or GCHQ, these are now the hot tickets. The downside obviously is that they’ve seen a rush of applicants this year, many of whom wouldn’t have considered public sector jobs in previous years, which must be very frustrating for those who have always aimed to go into some form of public service.
  • “Budget” brands – though Woolworths has gone (to be fair, it struggled for years) and Principles, the clothing chain, has just followed, Aldi and Matalan, as mentioned above, are seeing shoppers change their loyalties as they trade down and seek out “value”. As for travel, Pontins has seen a big increase in bookings and has talked about creating 2000 jobs, though their careers website doesn’t seem to reflect that yet (I guess it’s a bit early in the season for them yet). 
    For any international postgrad wondering what on earth “Pontins” is, you may have encountered a TV series called “Hi-De-Hi”, flogged by the BBC and maybe dubbed into your own language, about a 1950’s holiday camp full of chalets, entertainers and “fun activities”. You may be astonished to know that they still exist – except that they’ve re-invented themselves and, in addition to family holidays, you’re just as likely to find gangs of friends heading off to Butlins or Pontins for a weekend of 70’s, 80’s or 90’s pop acts earning an honest bob or two to supplement the pension.
  • Utilities, or any other essential infrastructure, particularly where public funding exists. Transport for London and the Tube Line are both recruiting, as are some water companies and nuclear decommissioning services organisations like Sellafield and Amec NNC.
  • Organisations who help their customers save money or improve efficiency, such as IT services companies who can pick up business from those companies who haven’t yet outsourced their IT services. I’d also look at supply chain management, where organisations can save money by re-examining their suppliers and working with them to reduce costs.
  • Audit & regulation – suddenly, “light touch” regulation seems less attractive than regulatory bodies with real clout. The National Audit Office has had large numbers of applications this year but they still have one or two current vacancies (in Newcastle) and more to come for August ’09. Some of the big accountancy firms are recruiting large numbers of graduates this year, particularly those dealing with public sector finance (and insolvency services).

Here are my rules of thumb when assessing a possible employer or sector to go into:

  • Look at the supply chain:
    How close to consumer “big ticket” items are they? Those which rely on new car sales are likely to be worse hit than those who rely on chocolate sales (the traditional low-cost pick-me-up to help us get through recessions).
    How critical is a job function to delivering goods or services to customers, or is it one which can get cut (or recruitment deferred) as a “nice-to-have” luxury? I’d expect advertising, marketing and PR to be scaling back right now.
  • Who are their customers? If the public purse pays or they’re offering their customers the chance to save money, they’re more likely to survive and need more staff.
  • How are they financed? They may hit all the buttons mentioned above, but if they’ve overstretched themselves in the good times and are now in need of credit (unwise acquisitions or over-expansion), even with last week’s “quantitative easing”, they may not survive.

However, having been out and about this weekend, I’d say that judging from the crowds at the garden centre, the really hot areas for making money this year have to be any sort of camping supplies and anything to do with growing vegetables. I predict that there won’t be a patio in Britain (apart from mine) without a now-obligatory large plastic sack, sprouting potatoes, carrots or tomatoes.