The social mobility challenge

Collaborating to make a difference

Social mobility is frequently in the news and has consistently been at the top of the policy agenda for nearly every single post-war UK government. Yet the UK still ranks as one of the lowest performing for income mobility across the OECD.

The social mobility challenge

To explore how social mobility in the UK can be improved through collaboration across sectors, Deloitte hosted a roundtable with senior leaders from a range of public, private and third sector organisations. This report is the output of our discussion, which is intended to drive a wider conversation around the key lessons we have learned in the social mobility space.

Our roundtable participants identified the following key trends in social mobility, as well as some of the systemic and organisational barriers to progress:

Key trends

• Regional variation and the post code lottery
• Lack of progress for those from low socioeconomic backgrounds

Systemic barriers

• The need for a holistic national level strategy
• Institutional bias and the educational attainment gap
• The need to make progress towards diversity

Organisational barriers

• Universities – widening participation versus rankings
• Recruitment and retention of teachers in social mobility cold spots
• Limited access to opportunities for skills development
• Barriers in access to career opportunities

So what’s next?

Employers, including private and public sector organisations, as well as schools and universities, are critical to social mobility. We have developed the following ideas based on the roundtable discussion:

Ideas for schools and Further Education colleges

  • Engage with local businesses, both small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and large corporations, to provide additional work-related opportunities for students. Examples of potential opportunities include mentoring with an employee, insight days and enterprise competitions.
  • Where possible, create additional training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities for teachers, to help them in supporting every child to reach their potential, irrespective of their background. Examples of training courses include: leadership development, workload management and pastoral care.
  • Provide students (and parents) with advice and guidance beyond education, to better equip them for life after school/college. This can include guidance on the wide range of possible pathways including Higher and Degree Apprenticeships, entrepreneurship and employment.
  • Increase collaboration with other schools and colleges, particularly those in more isolated areas, through the use of technology. For example this can include the sharing of: lesson plans, learning resources and best practices for school improvement.

Ideas for universities

  • Utilise contextualised offers, particularly for courses with higher entry tariffs, to holistically consider an applicant’s background when making admissions decisions.
  • Increase accessibility for university applicants across all regions of the country by providing virtual open days, and expanding the regions targeted by UK student recruitment and outreach teams.
  • Identify and internally communicate the benefits of improving social mobility from a university perspective, to further incentivise key decision-makers within the university. Benefits for universities include increased size of recruitment pool, and improved retention and progression rates for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Establish long-term partnerships with employers to provide inputs into curriculum design, to develop courses based on the evolving needs of employers.

Ideas for recruitment

  • Ensure work experience opportunities are open to all students, regardless of background. If informal or “friends and family” work experience programmes exist, review the demographics of students accessing these opportunities and take steps to redress any imbalances.
  • Consider offering specific work experience programmes to support students from lower socio-economic backgrounds to gain valuable work experiences and access to professions where they otherwise may not have any connections through their family or friends.
  • Contextualise academic achievements when considering entry level candidates, to level the playing field across applicants.
  • Make job advertisements more accessible by removing jargon and providing clear detail around location and the work and skills required. This will enable applicants to better understand the requirements of different vacancies, even if they do not have access to networks within the professions that they are applying for.
  • Transition away from competency based models which focus on the ability of candidates to demonstrate particular skills which often arise from having access to additional extra-curricular or employment opportunities. As an alternative, move towards strength based models, utilising interviews and scenario testing to account for an individual’s ability and potential.
  • Offer additional opportunities for work outside of major cities to alleviate pressure on candidates to move location, or provide financial support to make moving location possible for those from less advantaged backgrounds. Examples include: shifting focus to regional offices, encouraging remote working, and offering loans/subsidies for accommodation in major cities.
  • Inspire potential applicants by sending those who have succeeded in the business into specific schools/regions/areas to help with the raising of aspirations. Examples of this include: facilitating employees’ interactions with schools or allowing employees a number of voluntary hours a year to enable them to partake in such engagement.

Ideas for the workplace

  • Develop a coherent business case for why social mobility is important and why it matters, to shift the focus and incentive away from limited case-study type interventions, and towards interventions aimed at achieving long-term change.
  • Collect and share data to understand recruitment and progression patterns, to analyse the current state of social mobility in particular industries. This data should be used to set and measure objectives, to then be held as targets for senior management. Moreover this data can be used to establish accountability and set benchmarks across the sector.
  • Focus on fostering an inclusive culture in the workplace that allows employees to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work. This includes understanding and catering to the needs of employees both inside and outside the workplace.
  • Empower employees from low socioeconomic backgrounds through the provision of mentoring and online peer-to-peer platforms, so that they are better placed for career progression. Such interventions should be provided as soon as an employee joins the organisation and should continue as they progress.
Did you find this useful?