Why we all have a role to play in supporting social mobility

Written by
Chris Jones
City & Guilds Group

15 Nov 2017

15 Nov 2017 • by Chris Jones

This article is provided to Changeboard by our Future Talent 2018 partners, City & Guilds Group. You can see Chris Jones, CEO, in conversation with other business leaders at Changeboard's Future Talent Conference 2018 discussing the topic of digital inclusion.


Twenty years ago, the soundtrack to the general election was ‘things can only get better’. But two decades on and with another vote on the horizon, evidence is mounting that, in terms of the social mobility of the younger generation, things are actually getting worse.

The Social Mobility Commission’s most recent ‘state of the nation' report concluded that a series of fundamental barriers ‘are holding back a whole tranche of low and middle-income families and communities in England’. In other words, the life chances of not only the least privileged, but also of those traditionally seen as part of the middle classes, are getting gloomier. 

Access to skills development - vital to tackling social mobility

Unfortunately the causes of social immobility are complex – and hard to tackle. After all, it can depend on so many factors – education, family income, and even whereabouts in the UK you hail from. But there’s no question that access to skills development and opening up employment opportunities are vital to tackling the social mobility puzzle. So for all of us – especially those working in HR, training, recruitment or management – it’s time to consider how we can improve the current situation.
We all stand to benefit from a country where opportunity is real, and nobody is held back on account of their family or financial background. Aside from the obvious benefits to individuals, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on social mobility has found that reaching international benchmarks could increase GDP by four percentage points. Equally, evidence also suggests that organisations with a diverse workforce who are not exclusively recruited using traditional routes benefit from improved productivity and an enhanced corporate reputation. Plus, at a time when skills gaps are only growing, all of us need to be more open minded about how to secure the best employees. It can’t just be about recruiting in our own image, or looking to traditional routes to fill our talent pipelines.  

Alter your perspective on talent

It’s all about altering our perspective, and realising there isn’t one, single moment or intervention that alone can drive mobility. Nor is there a Government-led initiative that will magically transform things. The Government may talk about apprenticeships, top-level degrees or even CV-blind applications as silver bullets to social mobility, but these are smaller steps along a much longer journey.  
Ultimately, it’s about considering things holistically. This means looking beyond a university degree as a hallmark of professional training and ability. It means not focusing solely on recruiting a diverse workforce, but thinking about what comes next on the career ladder for each person. And it means feeding into discussions around how to improve the quality of vocational education, for example by supporting technical training delivery, or influencing qualification standards and curricula. 
But there are also plenty of smaller-scale interventions that businesses can implement to make a big difference. Time and time again, we hear how securing work experience placements or internships is a case of ‘who you know’. Consequently, many young people are denied valuable opportunities that could give them that all-important first step on the career ladder – simply because they don’t have the contacts. Challenging this practice and opening up opportunities to more people can have a huge impact on individuals’ progression.

Supporting aspirations for all

The same goes for supporting effective careers advice. We all know how poor careers advice is in schools. As a result, too many are directed down a path that isn’t right for them. This doesn’t just affect the individual concerned, but can even exacerbate skills gaps – because people simply don’t know about certain jobs and industries. By engaging with schools and colleges to support careers advice provision, we can open a young person’s eyes to roles they might never have considered – and help them pursue the right path to achieve their aspirations.  
And it isn’t solely about supporting people who are starting out in their careers. In fact, we have a responsibility to enable social mobility throughout the workplace, by offering development programmes to support individual progression. For example, to help somebody reach the next stage, management development programmes, or even management apprenticeships, can be critical. 

Social mobility is good for our future

Social mobility is likely to remain a priority regardless of who wins the election. Looking at the manifestos, it’s a common theme behind a number of proposed policies. Whether it’s about reinstating maintenance grants, removing tuition fees, or introducing new selective schools – supporting opportunity will be key in the coming years.

I hope businesses rise to the challenge and take things to the next level. Supporting social mobility for everyone is good for individuals, good for businesses – and good for our nation’s future.

City & Guilds Group