Role of business in social mobility


The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission group indicates that only 1 in 8 children from low-income homes goes on to achieve a high income as an adult (State of the Nation, 2013). According to the OECD, Britain has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world. 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces and 55% of Civil Service departmental heads attended independent schools despite just 7% of the population who had a private education.

Bath University found that there are two main problems in businesses which exacerbate the divide. First, access to jobs often depends on ‘who you know and what you can afford’ rather than what candidates can do. Second, employers define the evidence used to assess candidates too narrowly.

‘Who you know and what you can afford’ is a problem for young people who may be seeking work experience or internships. Half of work placements are filled by applicants who heard from ‘word of mouth’ rather than advertisement. This places lower income applicants at a disadvantage as they are less likely to have the relevant contacts than those from better-off backgrounds. Many sectors offer unpaid internships which again is inaccessible to lower income individuals because they may not have financial support from their families, whereas many middle-class families are financially comfortable enough to support their children in pursuing unpaid internships.

Despite being told that a degree will make you more valuable to employers, it seems only 7% of graduate employers target more than 30 universities to offer graduate positions with a fifth of employers targeting 10 or fewer. This means that students that were unable to move away from home due to financial costs may already be disadvantaged before they even graduate if they happen to choose one of the universities that isn’t targeted by the big employers.

So, what can businesses do to help social mobility and improve the prospects for our young people?

Many young people are now participating in initiatives such as “Tenner Challenge” which provides secondary school students with the opportunity to develop key skills such as creativity, resilience and problem solving using real money to take calculate risks in business. This gives them the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. This can provide young people with a real-life lesson in finance.

Staffordshire Young Enterprise offers young people the opportunity to pitch their business ideas in Dragons’ Den style. This year, students pitched to Nick Gilbert from Michelin, Sarah Da Silva, the chairwoman of Staffordshire Young Enterprise and Mike Cozens from World of Wedgewood. Cabinet Member for Learning and Skills at Staffordshire County Council said: “Young enterprise is a great programme that is helping inspire young people with the skills, confidence and ambition to succeed in this ever-changing global economy.”

By offering local schools assistance in developing skills, you not only look good to the community but also can provide an opportunity for the schoolchildren to come in for work experience and offer a pathway to employment to school leavers.

43% of young people believe unpaid internships act of have acted as a major barrier to getting a job. 40% who thought of those that considered applying for an internship has reconsidered because they couldn’t work for free. Of those that were offered an internship, 39% turned it down for financial reasons.

By paying your interns, you widen the candidate pool and therefore increase your chances of finding the best fit for your company. Paid interns are more likely to convert to full time and are more likely to stay with the company long-term which can help your staff turnover numbers.