Working in London can be both a challenge and an immensely enriching experience. People from all over the world consider doing so for various reasons. The city has an immense appeal to global business people, and most multinational companies have at least some staff in London.
In addition, there are countless micro, small and medium-sized businesses and in 2012 there were 756,000 self-employed people working in London, more than 100,000 international students and a large number of expats. These are all sure signs of the city´s continuing ability to compete on an international stage.
The city has made the transition from a labor-intensive to a service economy within the last 30 to 40 years. While in 1971, manufacturing accounted for more than 23% of employment, only 2.8% of all people working in London in 2012 were still employed in this sector. According to the Standard Industrial Classification used by the United Kingdom’s Company House, publishing is actually classified as part of the manufacturing sector. London is an impressive literary city and so its manufacturing sector looks even smaller when one takes into account that this number includes its publishing world.
London´s orientation towards financial, business and other services means that the city´s main asset is its human capital. People working in London have come from every corner of the earth to offer their expertise and fresh ideas in exchange for new opportunities and experiences.
There are probably more highly skilled workers among all the people working in London than in any other European city, which attracts a big investment community in return. The city prides itself on its commercial dominance, openness and entrepreneurialism. Entrepreneurial skills are indeed much in demand in an economy which places such great value on innovation and creativity.
The number of self-employed people in London is impressive; however, it indicates a story beyond the entrepreneurial spirit of the city. The number of self-employed people in all of the UK has been on the rise recently (with the highest concentration in London). This suggests that because of the shortage of jobs since the economic downturn, people are seeking out other means of employment. The Office of National Statistics published a report in February 2013 that analyzes this growth in self-employment. Out of the 4.2 million self-employed people working in the UK (the highest number since they started recording such data in 1992) 70% are male and the average age is 47. The top three occupations are taxi drivers/chauffeurs, construction traders, and carpenters.
The city’s largest industry is finance. The over 325,000 people working in London’s financial sector prior to the 2008 banking crisis have had to face some serious job and payment cuts since then. There is speculation that London will lose its status as the world’s financial capital in the next few years (surpassed by rivals Singapore, Hong Kong, or New York). However, it is safe to assume that London will always be a key player in the global financial sector.
You can find more information on The Economy of the UK in our Extended Guide.
Another big factor in the city´s economic success is, of course, tourism. Not only does London attract around 15 million international visitors every year, but the tourism industry also provides 226,000 jobs (about 5% of employment in London).
It was expected that the 2012 London Olympics would provide a boost to the city’s already affluent tourism industry and to the city’s economy. To many people’s surprise, however, the opposite happened. Over 250 visitor attractions, hoteliers and tour operators not just in London but all over Britain, reported financial losses during the Olympic Games. This demonstrates that London doesn’t necessarily need spectacles like the Olympics. The city’s tourism industry is healthy just as is. London´s immensely dynamic creative industries also contribute significantly to its economy and provide employment for many highly skilled staff working in London.
With its focus on biotechnology and life sciences and its many renowned universities, the city provides an excellent location for world-class research. Scientists, medical professionals, engineers, scholars, and researchers from all fields working in London enjoy the city´s intellectually challenging climate.
Nevertheless, the large number of highly skilled foreigners working in London also has its downside. London has long had a high unemployment rate; however, in March 2013 it was at the lowest rate it has been in the past four years. It is now 8.5% as opposed to just over 10% in early 2012. 8.5% is still above the national average (which is 7.8%), but it is no longer the highest in the country.
Find out which sectors are currently hiring people from abroad in our article on Jobs in the UK for Foreigners.
There are plenty of resources for people who are considering working in London. If you have already been working in London for a while, you may have already built your own professional network, consisting of valuable contacts in your industry and other expats. You should make sure to use this network if you are looking to change your employer or to help your spouse start working in London.
While the recruitment process in the UK is usually fair, transparent and based on equal opportunities, the importance of a personal network cannot be underestimated when working in London. As everywhere else in the world, people have their trusted sources, so a recommendation or referral by a business partner can be invaluable. If nothing else, you might hear of future vacancies in a company you would like to work for before anyone else does and thus get a head start.
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