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Is PhD employment affected by the crisis?

Christelle Poulain and Cécile Prévost

Due to the financial crisis, manager employment perspectives in Europe for 2009 are not the most optimistic.  At the Association Bernard Gregory (ABG) we decided to take stock of the job market for young PhDs.

Job offers as market indicators

We focused on the number of job offers posted on ABG's website (www.abg.asso.fr), considering that they provide an indicator of the economic climate.
We thus took a look at the job offers posted over the past two years, taking into account only the offers targeting our specific clientele, i.e. PhDs with less than five years of experience, thereby excluding offers aimed at senior managers.

The crisis factor?
Nearly 9000 job offers were published on ABG’s website over the past two years.  Throughout the entire year 2007 and up through the first quarter of 2008, the trend in job postings for all disciplines and all careers was extremely dynamic: a 20% rise over this period.  However, since the end of the first quarter of 2008, the trend has reversed, and the number of job offers has gradually decreased (-9%).

This indicator takes into account job offers posted by private sector companies as well as by universities and public sector organizations.  Now, the public sector is less immediately subject to economic upheavals than the corporate sector.  Does this mean that jobs in the private sector plummeted over the last three quarters of 2008?

Drop in long-term contracts
Whereas the rate of job offers posted by private sector companies had grown considerably during the first period studied (+30% during 2007 to the end of the first quarter of 2008), a slowdown of nearly 10% can be noted since early 2008.
Closer examination reveals that companies have maintained their recruitment rate for temporary jobs (+4% in short-term contracts in 2008), but they put a damper on long-term contracts (-15% over the past quarters).

R&D recruitment hardly affected
Not all careers are affected by the crisis in the same way.  By taking a closer look at private sector job offers posted by ABG, we note that engineering and information technology careers, sectors that have experienced a labor shortage in recent years, offered fewer opportunities in 2008.  On the other hand, careers involving consulting, expertise and studies as well as those related to R&D have maintained their rate of job offers during the same period.  Does innovation remain a safe bet to overcome the crisis?

A word from Isabelle Augustins, consultant, Hudson

The private sector today is undergoing a 10 to 20% slump in its recruitment compared to 2008.  All careers are affected except for R&D. APEC noted a 10% rise in R&D offers last November compared to November 2007.  With the crisis, competition becomes tougher and the fundamental role of R&D winds up being enhanced.  Even the automobile sector, which has take a severe plunge (-26% in a year), and which in France represents the largest industrial R&D expenditure, is putting all its chips on innovation. It's a matter of survival.  Environmental constraints will be a major engine for innovation.  Research in energy sectors, particularly nuclear power and renewable energy, will probably be the most promising.  Stay tuned!