Operational researchers, sometimes known as management scientists, seek solutions to complex problems in industry, commerce and government.
Their solutions may be directed at improving efficiency, customer service and quality, or lowering costs. Operational research (OR) is particularly useful in solving large-scale problems, such as transport systems planning, hospital design or oil production but can be used for smaller matters, such as the re-routing of a local bus service.
Operational researchers may work alone or in a small team. Much of their time is spent gathering information to develop an in-depth understanding of how the existing system works, including its strengths and weaknesses. They do this by interviewing managers and workers and by observation. They may also extract information from databases and other records.
They use a variety of techniques to analyse data, including mathematical, statistical and computing. They devise and test possible solutions to the problem, and set up forecasting models into which various possible solutions are fed and the results studied.
After analysing the results, a report of recommendations is drawn up, which is presented to the organisation’s company directors or senior managers. If the recommendations are accepted, the operational researchers may be jointly responsible for putting the changes into place.
Operational researchers normally work office hours, Monday to Friday. Evening and weekend work may be necessary to meet deadlines. Part-time work is possible.
Operational researchers are generally office-based but may visit different work environments, such as factories, processing plants and building sites.
It may be necessary to spend periods away from home, depending on the job. A driving licence is useful.
To become an operational researcher you need:
Operational researchers work in a wide range of organisations throughout the UK. They include manufacturing, water, power, telecommunications, mining, transport, travel and retail companies, the health service, university and research institutions and government departments and agencies, such as the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Research Agency. This is an expanding area of work but entry is competitive.
An increasing number of operational researchers are employed by consultancies, which are used by organisations without their own OR staff. Some operational researchers work as self-employed consultants.
Overseas work is possible.
Movement between employers is common. Promotion can be to project or team leader and then to manager of an OR department. Experience of OR is also regarded as a good basis for progression into general management.
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