How student employers can enhance social mobility

Feb 14, 2022 | Diversity | 0 comments

New research by Forage sheds light on the student employer role in enhancing social mobility.

“A fair society is an open society, one in which every individual is free to succeed.”

This sounds ideal but reality paints a far bleaker picture.

In 2022, the postcode in which you grew up continues to be a singular indicator of your individual success. The school you went to, what your parents do for a living and who they know continues to play an important factor in bolstering an individual’s potential. Not merit or skills.

And yet, low social mobility will cost £140bn a year from now to 2050 for the United Kingdom. That’s £1.3trn of lost GDP over the next 40 years!

Employer role in social mobility

It has been long recognised that employers are uniquely placed to play a role in increasing social mobility by providing opportunities along the education to workforce path.

At Forage, we know many employers like HSBC, Clifford Chance and Ashurst are working tirelessly to embrace the criticality of their role and to provide opportunities for those from historically underrepresented communities.

We also recognise that there is no simple solution to low social mobility – it is a complex and multifaceted societal issue. In light of this, we wanted to tap into our community of students in the UK and bring to surface their perspectives on this issue and how it has impacted them.

New study

We conducted a study of over 2,000 students in the UK and learned that while employer initiatives have certainly improved over the years, there is still much more to do. 

We learned that:

  • 5% attended non-fee paying schools and 25.3% were eligible for free school meals;
  • 7% identified as minority ethnic and 30% identified as refugee, asylum seeker or migrants;
  • 7% came from households where neither parent attended university;
  • 40% had a combined household income below the UK mean, with 20% being below the UK poverty line.

We also learned that just over 50% were either on the fence or disagreed that employer’s current social mobility initiatives are working. In particular, they continue to observe the disproportionate impact attending ‘Oxbridge’ or Russell Group Universities has on an individual’s chances of securing a role. They also observe the circular inequities of requiring work experience or relevant practical skills in order to gain employment, yet not being given any opportunities to access those in the first place.

It comes as no surprise that what the next generation of talent wants aligns with the World Economic Forum’s recommendations, which include focusing on meritocracy in hiring, actively participating in technical education programmes and providing skilling opportunities.

But what does this mean in practice for student employers that are already working so hard to make an impact in this space?

3 ways employers can boost social mobility

Here are some ideas to get you started, to scale your impact and play your part in creating a fairer system:

  1. Explore free virtual frameworks that provide participants with better career awareness, confidence and skills. Free and virtual opportunities reduce the myriad of barriers to entry that otherwise exist for those from historically underrepresented communities.
  2. Consider leveraging alternative hiring signals that go beyond the university someone went to or the marks they received. These are outcomes that benefit the advantaged, not the disadvantaged.
  3. Explore ways to make an impact throughout the school-to-work transition by starting early, as early as secondary school. This enables employers to inspire early talent, while setting them up with the skills to pursue a successful career.

If you are ready to learn more about how you can use virtual skilling frameworks to enhance social mobility in the UK, download the UK Voice of the Forage here.

Watch the Enhancing Social Mobility in the UK webinar with ISE, Forage and HSBC.

Read more insight and data on social mobility

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