How technology can engage students from low-income backgrounds

May 11, 2023 | Diversity, Home Featured, How-to

Technology can be used as a force for good, enabling social mobility by facilitating opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds, explains Zero Gravity.

Students from the most advantaged areas of the UK are over six times more likely to secure a place at a highly selective university than those from the most disadvantaged areas. The landscape is distressingly similar for accessing top graduate careers.

Statistics like this are almost embarrassingly commonplace, and we’ve become desensitised to their format: an impressive figure demonstrating the vast existence of high-talent, low-opportunity students, immediately followed by a qualification that this talent is almost always squandered.

The fact is that every statistic about social mobility details the same hard truth. Talent is spread evenly, but opportunity is not.

Socially mobile talent falls out of the opportunity funnel from as young as post-GCSE:
● No resources to apply to an elite university? No conversion of talent into degree qualification.
● No connections in their social network to enquire about openings? No high-profile career.


Commercially imperative

Investing in socially mobile talent has incredible commercial benefits. If the UK could increase social mobility to just the Western European average, we’d boost GDP by £39bn.

Socially mobile talent in the workplace shakes up previously impervious institutions, platforms new perspectives and ultimately levels the playing field.

This is recognised by many employers who are actively seeking to break the UK’s entrenched social divide by converting socially mobile talent. Direct Line is one example of adapting its school outreach programme to engage students from low-income backgrounds.

But if a student exists in a conversion ‘cold spot’ in the UK, held back by geographic, socioeconomic and educational boundaries, they are isolated from outreach programmes and in-person activations.

Even the most motivated employer cannot hire the most talented student if they simply cannot find one another.


Technology as an enabler

From Deliveroo to Uber, scalable tech has been used to open doors across the UK. If you can get a quick curry or a cab to the pub through a mobile app, why couldn’t the same be done for the greater good of the UK?

This was the exact thought process of Zero Gravity founder Joe Seddon, who decided to build a ‘tech for good’ business. He would use technology as an access force to opportunity by identifying, reaching and converting socially mobile talent.

The Zero Gravity algorithm identifies the top 15% of performing talent from the bottom 40% of social advantage. We plug directly into over 20% of UK state schools to meet the UK’s leading socially mobile talent right at the start of their journey.

These state school students are more than twice as likely as private school students to report having ‘no professionals’ in their life to support their university and career growth.

The Zero Gravity platform gives students access to the support networks that were previously reserved to those with the know-how, or an existing professional network through friends and family.

Students have access to video mentoring, a virtual community, and online up-skilling master classes.

They can remain in the opportunity funnel from education to work, even if their location, education or other social circumstances change. The platform bypasses the retention issue that fixed-location outreach programmes face.


Social mobility benefits of technology

Technology can facilitate opportunities that were formerly the reserve of an advantaged few.
By circumventing geographic and socioeconomic barriers, technology can ensure that background no longer stands in the way of opportunity.
Our research identified the ‘Network Advantage’, which is the intangible advantage obtained through access to a broad professional network.

Technology can open up these broad professional networks and opportunities for those from low-opportunity backgrounds scattered across all four corners of the UK.

No more does a student need to be in the right place at the right time with the right people. Tech brings the opportunity straight to the talent.

But it’s not just the students who benefit. Scalable tech such as this is massively advantageous for tackling employer pain points.

Limited time and resources for outreach mean that workplaces often miss out on underrepresented students who cannot be in the ‘right place’ at the ‘right time’. Tech can act as a virtual database using data-driven insights, which can bring talent straight to those looking.

The algorithm ensures that the right students are being reached and the accessible tech keeps them in the right place. The scalable nature of the tech ensures that they remain within the funnel at the right time.

Mutual pain points of economic or geographic barriers are circumvented entirely, creating a win-win situation for both student and employer.

Our flagship partnership with HSBC demonstrates the effectiveness of digital mentoring spaces. As a result of our careers platform, Zero Gravity students were twice as likely to secure a place on the company’s Head Start programme compared to other applicants.

Technology also enables reach at an unprecedented scale. For example, tech companies like Zero Gravity have already supported more than 8,000 low opportunity students into highly selective universities, and now into top careers.

Our vision is a future in which statistics about high-talent, low-opportunity students are not followed with a qualification of how this potential has gone unrealised. Using tech to help students defy the odds, and prove it’s possible to be digitally powered, but human-driven.


You may also be interested in…

Graduate employers need to innovate to increase socioeconomic diversity

Why the UK is still socially immobile and what to do about it

How student employers can enhance social mobility

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