Best Cities for Jobs

Before you up sticks to the capital and don your three-piece and brogues, consider this. While London is renowned nationwide (and globally) for providing exciting careers within the design and creative sectors, it might not necessarily be the best city for providing engineering or manufacturing opportunities. 

If you work in the Oil & Gas industry for example, opportunities in Scotland are much stronger than elsewhere in the UK. Recruitment agencies in Aberdeen cover a variety of offshore related careers that are unique to that area. 

So it begs the question, which city is best suited to your profession?

Whenever I think of high-flying city jobs, I always imagine the steely jungle of New York. A city host to commuters, zooming through its streets, in their oversized winter coats and polished shoes. This typically romantic notion isn't just reserved for the Big Apple though. Here in the UK, we have some exceptional cities of our own. 

This article will look at which of these cities are best suited to specific careers - considering their past trends and current states, along with the culture and social life that inherently comes with each one of them...

The economy: if in doubt head south?

Like in any good disaster movie, the solution is usually to head south and hope for the best. For years now that theory has also applied to employment and career progression. With salaries, opportunities and general economic growth all on a steady increase in the south (more so than any other area of the UK), the population of these cities have seen consistent growth.

In a government report from 2013, the gap between southern cities and the rest of the UK was confirmed to be increasing. The report stated that,

"Looking over a 10-year period from 2004 to 2013 - which allows an analysis of longer term trends rather than year-to-year fluctuations - shows that the differences in population growth, the number of businesses, the number of jobs and house price affordability have continued to widen between cities in the South and cities elsewhere in the UK."

The very same study also reported that the population of these southern cities grew at a rate of 11.3% over this period, whilst other UK cities only grew by 5.5%. 

The larger cities tend to make the most sense to aspiring professionals, being centres for some of the biggest companies in the world and also host to the most vibrant night-life and social scenes.

To try and create a more even balance, the government are setting up plans for northern cities (such as Manchester) to experience a similar level of growth. To echo a speech made by David Cameron in January of this year, 

"When it comes to the next generation - to Britain's long-term future - few things are more important than rebalancing our economy we need a strong London, but we need a northern powerhouse too."

But with a trend over the last decade showing that southern cities have created 12 additional job openings to every 1 opening elsewhere in the UK, this will prove a difficult, long-term task. Giving UK cities and their regions greater control over their taxes, assets and budgets would be a sensible place to start if we have any hope of 'rebalancing' the UK economy.
The pie chart below gives a good indication of how the number of jobs are currently spread across the country, reflecting the economic health of each area respectively:

UK population spread

When it comes to the UK's urban and rural divide, what most of us perceive it to be and what it actually is, are two very different things. I remember reading a report in 2012 that analysed in great detail how our land is currently spent. After extensive research, it turned out that urban life (cities and built-up areas) surprisingly only accounts for 12% of our land usage - with main cities responsible for 9% of that. What this means to the population is that our main, urban 'hubs' of life are highly condensed in comparison to the grander scale of the country itself. 

In terms of which regions of the UK this city population growth has occurred, 9 of the top 10 highest growing cities over the past decade are located in the south.

Most people tend to flock together when it comes to finding a place to live and work. We seek out the best locations for career prospects and quality of life - fundamentally they are our two top priorities. The larger cities tend to make the most sense to aspiring professionals, being centres for some of the biggest companies in the world and also host to the most vibrant nightlife and social scenes.

Living in the countryside or in a more dramatically secluded area poses quite the opposite issues. While the peace and quiet might appeal to older generations (who don't need to move around to further their career anymore), the lack of accessibility, opportunities and social life prove undesirable to young professionals.

This entire concept is the driving force as to why the UK's cities will always provide the most widespread, diverse and lucrative opportunities when it comes to career development.

We seek out the best locations for career prospects and quality of life - fundamentally they are our two top priorities.

In terms of which regions of the UK this city population growth has occurred, 9 of the top 10 highest growing cities over the past decade are located in the south. Expectedly then, all 10 of the lowest growing cities are located north of Liverpool. With such black and white statistics, you might be packing your bags and getting southbound on the motorway right now, but wait a second.

The South isn't always the 'be all and end all' in particular fields of work. It's certainly worth having a look at what industry hotspots reside up north first...

Industry Hotspots in the North

So far there is plenty of evidence stacked against the north providing better opportunities than the south in any way. With recent news of Teesside's Steel Plant in Redcar going into liquidation and the UK steel industry on its knees, it only serves to exacerbate the point further. 

But there is light on the horizon. With some exciting new plans in place for specific industries, the north will be home to more opportunities than ever before. But in which industries?

Creative & Digital Industry

With the BBC and ITV migrating to Salford in Manchester, a recent study (conducted by Oxford Economics) expects over 200,000 jobs in the creative and digital sectors to be created within the next five years. This isn't the only exciting creatively-led development to hit Manchester's employment increase either.

The north-west is home to an increasing number of start-up businesses over recent years, with areas such as Warrington and Trafford sitting well above the national average for new business growth.

With reference to the earlier quote by David Cameron, stating the country needed a 'northern powerhouse', Manchester is set to receive a £78 million cash injection into its creative economy (according to last year's Autumn Statement). 

This will be utilised to develop a new creative hub named The Factory, set to be built on the old site of Granada Studios. It will essentially combine a variety of art spaces in an attempt to attract some of the world's most revered creatives and to also provide a cultural counterbalance to London.


Try saying that after a few drinks. Although this isn't technically an 'industry', it is definitely worth mentioning. The north-west is home to an increasing number of start-up businesses over recent years, with areas such as Warrington and Trafford sitting well above the national average for new business growth. 

A recent article from The Guardian also states how "entrepreneurialism in the North West is underpinned with a good system of business support and access to various lines of finance, should the business require funding."

It would seem the areas in and around Greater Manchester, on the whole, have better overall business support than the rest of the UK (London exempt). So if you have been toying with the idea of starting your own business, the North-West is more than a viable alternative than moving to the fiercely competitive, overcrowded London.

Manufacturing Industry

There are plenty of manufacturing hotspots up north, with none more renowned than North Wales. With two international airports, more than 100 companies and home to the UK's main aerospace facilities, North Wales has become a manufacturing behemoth. 

This report of their government manufacturing directory highlights the illustrious reel of large manufacturing names currently based there - BAE Systems, Airbus and Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK to name but a few.

From 2010 to 2015, Conwy experienced the second fastest growth in manufacturing employment in the country (second only to Carmarthenshire, South Wales).

With Airbus pumping a massive £2 billion worth of investment into its North Wales base over the last ten years, the region doesn't show signs of slowing down.The Deeside Enterprise Zone is looking to link a new Advanced Manufacturing Centre to their university, in order to further enhance the manufacturing and engineering talents coming from the region.

With more than 100 companies, over 20,000 jobs, two universities, two of the best further education colleges in the UK, three enterprise zones and easy access to two international airports, North Wales offers plenty of opportunity to all kinds of manufacturing professionals.

Renewable Energy & Engineering Industry

According to Glasgow City council, there are 5,000 people currently working in the Energy Sector - with powerhouses like Scottish Power and SSE both based there. After hundreds of 'green' jobs already created, there is a long-term future goal set in place to ensure Glasgow is seen as a global economic hub for the Renewable Energy Industry.

The plan involves a partnership between Scottish Enterprise and The University of Strathclyde (along with a budget of £89 million) who are looking to build a Technology and Information Centre (TIC). 

Aside from creating even more jobs, this move reaffirms that Glasgow is the place to be if you are looking to work in this industry.

Assisted Area Status: what is it?

As we have already established, planning for the future (particularly your career) can take some research into the locations that are best suited to your profession. While it might be easy to instantly dismiss certain places as unsuitable, the government release an Assisted Area scheme every 5 years. The benefits of this are best defined on the government website or summarised here:

"Assisted areas are recognised in European state aid rules as being less economically advantaged places that would benefit from additional support for development." 

This is useful for struggling businesses looking to grow and for local talents who would prefer not to migrate to the big cities. Michael Fallon MP, the Minister of State for Business and Energy, stated that:

"The 2014-2020 Assisted Areas Map captures more opportunities to drive growth in less advantaged local economies than its predecessors."

He went on to outline that the Manufacturing Industry is of particular focus, with the scheme looking to aid both high-tech and traditional sectors:

"The UK's industrial heartlands are central to the Map. Manufacturing is particularly relevant to the granting of regional aid that Assisted Area status offers because of its capital intensive nature and its deep, sometimes local, supply chains."

This will hopefully help to diversify the country's regional employment footprint, making our economy less dependant on the four big cities. From 2014-2020 the following areas of the UK will benefit from the Assisted Area Scheme:
  • Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly 
  • West Wales and The Valleys 
  • Caithness & Sutherland and Ross & Cromarty 
  • Lochaber, Skye & Lochalsh, Arran & Cumbrae and Argyll & Bute
  • Eilean Siar (Western Isles)
  • Northern Ireland

Skill Shortages

Talk of major skill shortages has been a recent topic in the news, with particular areas struggling to fill certain job roles as a result. It's being considered Britain's worst skill shortage in over 30 years and, not only is this affecting the growth of the economy, but it means that specific industries are being affected in a lot of areas.

Planning for the future, particularly your career, can take some research into locations that are best suited to your profession.

This is a headache for recruiters but potentially good news for any professional working in such fields - meaning their job search is much less competitive than others. When discussing skill shortages specific to cities and locations across the UK, Chancellor George Osborne highlighted that, although the North East is traditionally a hub of manufacturing, employers are finding it increasingly more difficult to source candidates with specialist skills (mechanical, electrical and civil engineering).

This prompts the obvious question then, which industries and job roles are the most sought after at the moment?

Top 10 most in-demand industry sectors

Below is a list of skilled vocations that employers in 2015 are struggling to source adequate volumes of talent for:

1. Engineering
2. Executive / Professional
3. Nursing / Medical / Care
4. IT & Computing
5. Accounting / Financial
6. Secretarial / Clerical
7. Blue Collar
8. Construction
9. Hotel & Catering
10. Biotechnology

If you are studying to (or currently work in) any of these industries, your chances of acquiring a job are significantly greater than others. You will also find that, as a result, the pay will be higher than usual.

Below is a graph that looks at the current landscape of job vacancies in the UK (accurate from August 2015) in relation to industry. From this we can determine what the most in-demand sectors currently are, but also see what industries will have the greatest competition for jobs.

Commuting Issues

For most of us, sitting in a car or on some kind of public transport is a daily norm. We become numb to the same old sights out of the window and familiar with zombified commuter faces. I imagine most people, myself included, autonomously develop checkpoints on their journeys in order to estimate their time of arrival. I know that once I pass a particular roundabout on my way into work, I'm approximately 15 minutes away.

I see the same silver Bentley travelling in the opposite direction every morning and I always think the same thing, 'I wonder what he does for a living?'. I guess the point I am trying to make here is that commuting is an almost subconscious routine nowadays. Fortunately for me I don't live in (or commute to) a huge city like London or, worse still, Manchester. Wait a second, Manchester? Worse than London? Yes, and here's why...

Which city is the worst to commute to? 

In a survey by the RAC Foundation in 2014, they found that Manchester scores worse than London on a number of levels when it comes to commuting. In fact, out of the entire country, the North West of England was placed bottom of the list - due to its 'high casualty rate and poor air quality'. In addition to this, the North West was also found to have the second highest travel time of the UK, after the South East.

Commuting to Manchester is more limited to driving - with main access coming from motorways like the M62 and M56. Trams help to alleviate the problem a little, but are by no means as effective as the underground network that the capital has.

The main issues that separate London from Manchester on a commuting comparison is the types of transport used/available. While London is more densely populated, more people tend to take advantage of riding a bike to work or utilising the expansive underground system. 

Commuting to Manchester on the other hand is more limited to driving - with main access coming from motorways like the M62 and M56. Trams help to alleviate the problem a little, but are by no means as effective as the underground network that the capital has.

Other areas of the North West that make it the worst commuting region include the likes of Leeds and Liverpool - although a new 'Mersey Gateway Bridge', due to open in 2017, should ease congestion to the latter mentioned. 

How to speed up your commute

Unless you actually live in the city centre and can access your work via a small walk, almost everyone will have to commute by car, train or bike. For the shorter journeys, bikes are the more effective options, as you can utilise the cycle lanes to navigate traffic jams with ease. But even this commuting method can be made more efficient through preparation. 

Commuting by push bike

Having your 'kit' ready the night before will greatly increase your efficiency in the morning. Before bed every night I pack my gym bag, sort my breakfast and dinner out, and decide what to wear for work. By doing all of this the night before, my half-asleep self in the morning is eased of any decision making - so I can just get dressed, grab my bag and go. You can use this same method to generally increase your speed in the mornings.

Cycling also means that you can combat the problems of sitting all day and squeeze in two effective windows of exercise. Plus, if you take increasing your cycling speed really seriously, you can always buy yourself one of these.

Commuting by car

Driving into work is similar. Although you might not be able to predict the traffic, roadworks or accidents that may occur the following day, you can take measures to make sure you start your commute earlier. If you know you are low on fuel, go to the petrol station the night before. There is nothing worse than diverting from your morning route to fill up - especially as you will find most others doing the same. 

In the winter months, ensure you have a ready supply of de-icer and a scraper in your car, as this will save you a good 10 minutes trying to make it thaw and giving your hands hypothermia.

Commuting by train

While there isn't a whole lot you can do to 'speed up' a commute on a train (as you aren't the Director of National Rail and therefore can't increase the train speed to 200mph) you can still ensure your mornings are a little easier. Getting to the station slightly earlier can help you negotiate the impending hoards of people that will be vying for a seat. By getting yourself a seat you are able to pop open your laptop or tablet and start work early (if you're feeling super-productive that is).

Also, having your train pass easily accessible makes checking in a breeze, as you won't be spending 10 minutes fumbling through your pockets only to retrieve a two-week old shopping receipt, more keys than a jail warden and enough copper to rebuild the Statue of Liberty.

Trains are fairly reliable nowadays so, once you're onboard, all that is left to do is lose yourself in some music or (like 99% of people) bury your head into your phone for the next 30 minutes or so, until you reach your stop.
Just don't fall asleep and wake up 60 miles south of your destination (voice of experience). Or, if you are sleepy, take a leaf out of this genius's book.

City life and culture

If you haven't lived in a city before it is a good idea to understand what life can be like before taking the plunge. I personally love the atmosphere and 'vibe' of a good city. The nightlife and guaranteed myriad of bars, restaurants and shops means that most people's favourite pastimes are catered for.
Of course If you've lived in a city before you will already know this. But if you're a country boy (or girl) born and bred, then some of the quirks of city life might be quite hard to get used to initially. Take a look at the top 5 pros and cons of a city lifestyle in the table below:

Although 'social life' is listed as a positive factor in a city, it is a very different type of social life to that of a more rural setting. If you live in a village you will become accustomed to seeing the same familiar faces every day, knowing everybody by their first names and finding that you are a recognised member of a small community.

In a city however, you will meet new people every single day (be it a glance or a friendship), you'll feel less part of a small ecosystem but more of a curious fish in a huge, exciting pond. Both city and country living have individually rewarding benefits to each person - but it is useful to understand these main differences before you move from the sticks to the streets.

Ultimately, taking into account the industry you work in, the lifestyle you wish to lead, and whether you have a family to consider, are all decisive factors when looking to relocate.

The culture within most big cities tends to be more diverse than small towns and villages, so you will find that there are a lot more 'tourism-based' organisations such as museums, art galleries and a variety of worldwide cuisine available. In short, if you do decide to move into a big city to further your career, just remember the host of lifestyle changes that will be part and parcel of the transition.


Hopefully this article has helped you come a little closer to any relocation decisions you might have been mulling over. Flocking to London is an easy and common mistake that people tend to make in their search of a career boost when, in fact, closer inspection reveals that there are plenty of other locations across the country that will serve you just as well (if not better).

Ultimately, taking into account the industry you work in, the lifestyle you wish to lead, and whether you have a family to consider, are all decisive factors when looking to relocate. Hopefully the information presented here will help you to understand the economic future of certain areas, the lifestyle differences and, above all else, the job types and opportunities available there.

If your mind is made up and you wish to search for a new job in one of these places, check out our article on how people find a job for further help, or visit our website to find a suitable recruitment agency in the location of your choice.