Misunderstood and unloved – that’s Economics, a subject which used to be the third most popular choice in high school following English and maths.
Okay, that was 1991, but the wane in students studying economics has some in business and government worried. The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) notes a 70 percent drop in enrolments in Economics in the past 25 years, as well as a two to one ratio of boys to girls in classes. It used to be much closer to parity and the students who do study the subject are predominantly coming from high socio-economic backgrounds.
They are trends which will adversely affect diversity of thought in an area that affects us all.
Whether you have a job or you don’t, the economy impacts your life and the decisions you make every day. Think about politics and who you’ll choose to vote for on election day. The majority consider the economic policies of the parties and how they’ll affect us when we vote. We worry when there is an economic downturn and the affects it will have on job retention, our finances, our lives.
From budgets to debt, credit and surplus savings, it’s impossible to divorce our financial health from our economic livelihoods and from the health of the economy as a whole.
Economics is everywhere and designing economic policies that account for the whole of society requires a broad range of life experiences.
It’s why the Australian Business Economists (ABE) association has set itself the task of developing as many of the next generation of economists through schools and universities as possible, so the pool doesn’t get any more shallow but rather deepens in experience.
It’s true, Economics suffers from an image problem.
Dull numbers and excel spreadsheets at 20 paces in a windowless grey room is not sexy. But, says Besa Deda, St.George Group Chief Economist and Australian Business Economists member, that is an out-dated stereotype.
Studying Economics, she says, future-proofs you for the workforce by ensuring adaptability and skills that open career options and could lead to better job retention in the future for those who have it under their belts.
Her ABE school conference event is a great example. The focus is on the breadth and depth of employment prospects for economists. She also unashamedly stacks the event - now in its third year - with women presenters. Both strategies are about changing perceptions around what economists look like, but the guys are not left right out. She always has one guy on the panel.
According to workforce data: “Less than 10 percent of people with economics work as economists or in the way we view economists,” and according to the RBA that may be why there is a… “misperception about employability”. Take a look at the panel for the ABE’s school conference this year for diversity. It included: ABC business journalist Elysse Morgan, who says the demand for economic knowledge is only rising as more and more people seek economic advice, analysis, opinion, and facts in an effort to understand their world.
Megan Paybody, who works at EY in Economics, Regulation and Policy in sports and live entertainment, advises investors, including government, on everything from why you might or might not build a new AFL stadium to the cost benefit ratio of hosting a World Cup Soccer event in Australia. Megan believes economics opens up a world of possibilities: “Google jobs plus Economics and look at the range of options. It is not about number crunching in excel.”
Megan studied Economics at school in Ireland, partly she says, because she wanted to be in the same class as her best friend. BFF aside she went on to study it at uni, did a student placement in Shanghai and now works in Australia combining sport, live entertainment, and economics – 3 things she loves – into her perfect career.
Emily Blythe, a recent Westpac graduate, has followed a more conventional path. She took Economics at school and uni and now works in a bank. Emily works on funding for the bank – not something many of us would think about but so important to a bank’s operation. Her advice to students raised a laugh: “No one cares what ATAR you got.”
Alex Joiner is Chief Economist at IFM Investors. He refers to himself as a massive introvert and credits his career in economics for ensuring he gets out of his comfort zone and that every day is fascinating. He firmly believes economic research, information and analysis provide him with what’s needed to make better educated guesses about the future.
The conference went online this year, expanding the amount of schools and students able to attend to 53 nationally. Natasha Cassidy, from the Reserve Bank of Australia, provided the keynote on current global economic and domestic conditions, paying particular attention to the impact of COVID-19, and looking at recent RBA actions in relation to the conditions created by the pandemic.
You can watch what each presenter had to say in detail at the ABE's Schools Economics Conference about the power of Economics.