Social mobility: are employers doing enough?

26 September 2017

26th September 2017, 8 in the morning, the sun is shining, and we’re in the City of London hosting another 106 Breakfast Series event, this time on Social Mobility and Early Talent.  We were lucky enough to be joined by a couple of great speakers – Rachael Millar from the Social Mobility Commission, who talked through the state of social mobility today and what employers could do about it; and Alexandra Walton from Laing O’Rourke, who shared some of their work and insights on social mobility.

So what did we learn and discuss?

Social mobility is a big problem but is it really on the agenda for government and employers?  While many employers are interested in this area and a few are making some progress (Grant Thornton, for example), few are making it a priority.  We still have 12.5% youth unemployment, which has hardly changed in the last couple of decades.

We talk about a glass ceiling for women, but there’s a vicious circle for low-income families.  Rachael shared an interesting stat: with only one in eight children from low-income background likely to become a high earner as an adult, the vast majority of people will never be able to change the cycle.

Apprenticeships haven’t solved youth unemployment.  The high levels of Level 2 Apprenticeships tend to lead to lower pay and lower chances of moving into full-time employment.  We saw last week that the number of Degree Apprenticeships are growing among ISE members, but this still represents a small percentage of apprenticeships.

Recruitment and CSR need to work closer together.  There are great efforts being made by Corporate Responsibility teams and Recruitment teams, but how much are these efforts combined.  For example, we often hear of companies giving large sums to universities, yet there is no emphasis on helping to unearth talent from lower socio-economic groups.  What’s more, a report in the US showed that Fortune 500 companies only spent a fraction of their CSR budget on education.

Employers are trying to improve diversity, but it’s not always working. We heard from one employer that has made significant moves to increase number of graduate engineers from BAME backgrounds but with virtually zero outcome.  We know from the Royal Academy of Engineers that a huge amount of BAME graduate engineers are not going into engineering as a profession; is it because of role models, opportunities, organisation bias?

Do your research and empathise with your audience – the case study from Laing O’Rourke shows the power of research and empathy, and how you can reach and engage with low-income families by taking a considered and committed approach.  It won’t happen overnight; it will take time and resource; but it is really worth it in the end.

Blind cv screening and removal of academic selection criteria are working well, but is it achievable for all employers?  We’ve seen from the likes of Grant Thornton, EY and others that removing traditional academic selection criteria and making CVs blind in the recruitment process can have dramatic effects on outcomes.  But without some other scientific selection criteria (based on some prediction of performance), then it’s difficult for organisations to embrace this.  After all, you’ve suddenly got a massive deluge of applications.

If you wear brown shoes with a suit, you are less likely to get a job in investment banking.  Yes, from research conducted by the Social Mobility Commission, it was found that first impressions still matter a great deal in some areas of the world – and brown shoes with a suit can be a real no-no in the City.

Of course, government needs to do more to improve social mobility; but employers can play their part.

For one, offer better apprenticeship opportunities – and don’t simply recruit great A level students from middle class families.  There’s a growing feeling that apprenticeships will be dominated by students who previously would have gone to university, but now simply see it as a way to avoid debt and secure a great job.

Be more committed to establishing relationships with communities, and work hard to support young people.  After all, these are people that haven’t put together a CV and will find it difficult to go through the usual online testing.

Look at the way you promote your brand to these people.  A lesson from This Girl Can campaign shows that it is important to redefine the aspiration to grow inclusion.  Employers can be seen as elitist, and people from low-income families may not feel they can aspire to such organisations.

Do let us know if you’d like to know more about our work and approach in social mobility and early talent.  Also, if you’d like to come along to one of our breakfasts in the future, drop Henry an email.

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