Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The 10 safest jobs in a recession

People who have suffered the trauma of being made redundant are not usually in any hurry to repeat the experience. So, in times of recession such as these, it makes sense to consider how secure your next job will be.

If you've been made redundant and are unlikely to find the same type of work again, a career change will be forced on you. Others, meanwhile, will welcome the opportunity to try something new. But which are the safest career choices at a time of economic slowdown? We've drawn up a list of 10 jobs that experts say are most likely to weather the storm.

But first a quick health warning. This recession won't follow exactly the same pattern as previous downturns, while initiatives taken to lessen its impact can have unpredictable consequences. So no list of "safe" jobs will ever be completely accurate.

However, the following should provide an indication of the factors you should look for when seeking job security.

1. Teaching

Children still need to go to school in a recession, and their numbers don't decline in line with economic output. So teachers should enjoy good job security during a downturn.

"While manufacturing and service industries can always reduce staff numbers as their workload falls, demand doesn't fall in schools during a recession so there is less scope for shedding employees," says a spokesman for the Institute for Employment Studies (IES). "That's that's not to say there is never any room for cost-cutting, though," he adds.

2. Working in the NHS

The same logic applies to healthcare workers: just as many people need treatment in a recession as in normal times. And the Government doesn't want to make unemployment worse by cutting jobs in essential services.

"This Government is committed to keeping unemployment down and therefore health, education and social services will continue to hire," says Michael Moran, the chief executive of Fairplace, an "outplacement" agency that helps employers find jobs for redundant employees.

3. Other public service jobs

When you're trying to work out how likely a particular employer is to make staff redundant, ask this question: where do they get their money? Public bodies are funded by the taxpayer via government - local or national - so their income is reliable, says the IES spokesman, and their budgets tend to be decided months or years in advance.

"If an employer's income depends directly or indirectly on consumer spending, there is much more chance that this income will fall significantly in a downturn, with adverse consequences for jobs," he adds. "Organisations that don't depend on consumer spending are more likely to be able to hold on to their staff."

4. Public transport projects

If you're working for a contractor on a new road or railway, for example, you are in the private sector - but the money being spent still comes from the Government, not the consumer. And again, the budgets tend to be made available in advance. So jobs such as this tend to be safe - at least for the duration of the project.

The Government may put more resources into this kind of programme to take up the spare capacity in the economy that occurs in a recession.

5. Home insulation and other 'green' initiatives

The same arguments apply here. Public money may be pumped into environmentally friendly projects - the mass insulation of Britain's housing stock was recently proposed - as a means of boosting the economy and cutting carbon dioxide emissions.

6. Energy

Britain needs a new tranche of power stations to replace ageing nuclear plants and the most polluting fossil-fuel-burning facilities. If building doesn't start soon, the country is expected to face blackouts within a few years. Those who get jobs as engineers, say, working on one of these projects are probably safe until it is complete - and they often last many years.

7. IT

Information technology specialists remain much sought after, says Mr Moran. "Typically, the more specialised the skill, the better," he says, "with the proviso that it's a skill in demand. The fear of all specialists is that the market moves and they find themselves unemployable." And, as with the examples above, the sector in which you are working is as important as the job you do. For example, an IT specialist is likely to have better job security working for the NHS than in a bank.

8. Human resources

"Job security comes from employability - having a skillset in demand by the market," says Mr Moran. HR people with skills in making people redundant are among those who are needed more in the current climate, he adds. And with staff feeling more anxious generally, HR professionals' ability to deal with employee relations is in demand.

"Career coaches - people who can help the unemployed find jobs - are another example of professionals whose skills are wanted at the moment," says Mr Moran.

9. Interim managers

These are short-term employees brought in by a company to manage a particular project or cover for permanent employees who are ill, on maternity leave or away from work for some other reason.

Mr Moran says: "Interestingly, interims are still sought after, as organisations are reluctant to take people onto the permanent payroll. Again, though, you need a skillset in demand."

10. Accountants/finance directors/compliance officers

These are some of the professionals whose services are more in demand in a downturn, as companies pull out all the stops to survive, or as failed firms are wound up or sold on.

"Accountants with insolvency skillsets are much sought after at present," says Mr Moran, "as are finance directors with experience of restructuring debt for companies in danger of breaching their agreements with their lenders."

Compliance/risk officers are another good example, he adds: with the widespread awareness that excessive risk-taking got banks - and so the wider economy - into their current difficulties, companies are stepping up their efforts to monitor potentially disastrous transactions and to comply with the tighter regulations that the financial crisis is bringing.

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