Social Mobility – What can HR do to help?



Recently I was fortunate enough to have a piece published on the Guardian careers site.  It was a piece about apprenticeships being as robust a start to a career as an undergraduate degree and a topic that is close to my heart.  As a volunteer mentor, I have often met with young people who are confused, scared and doubtful about their future careers; the path of GCSEs, A Levels, University, then a Graduate scheme, just does not work for them.  Some have high aspirations, but are failed by a system that chooses to put children in boxes as learners and as such those that don’t fit are failed. Some are keen but not financially able to go to university but have all the characteristics, drive, determination and intellect to achieve great things in their career.  This really got me pondering about social mobility and how if anyone can, we as HR practitioners can effect a change in attitude.  We embrace and champion diversity but are we merely ignoring social diversity, labelling this as OK as we’re looking for academic excellence in our organisation?  Why can’t more organisations remove minimal degree requirements from their recruitment criteria and instead hire for attitude and potential – yes, that is harder to compare but is surely of more use to the business in the long term.  I attended a CIPD meeting the other day where the speaker, an organisational psychologist, commented that probably over 90% of the learning that undertake  for our degrees is ‘learned for test’ and not retained long term.  Our brains empty almost all of it after our finals.  He remarked that learning is cemented in 2 ways; copying or trial and error.  I came away wondering – what even is the point of a degree for most people (I’m most definitely in the 90% category – mentally blocked my financial accountancy module).

So what are we doing to help?  What more can we do?  The CIPD have launched a new scheme to put HR volunteers into schools to help support career guidance and this is a great start but we also need a hand in making our vacancies accessible to all.  Career guidance and support is worthless if organisations don’t adapt their entrance criteria to accept different learning pathways and this needs to be shouted about.  Ernst & Young and other large organisations have removed academic qualifications from their selection criteria and this happened in 2015 so why are we still seeing such disparity and still a widening gap between social classes in the workplace.  Surely the old boys/girls network isn’t that far reaching?! Here are some ways to make a difference:

  1. Outreach – Visit local schools, give back, and engage with colleges. Use that CSR policy to good use and get out there.  Talk about your job, what you love, how young people can join you.
  2. Make information about vacancies, progression and routes into your business clear, jargon free and easy to find. Use a variety of mediums; social media, local newspapers, job centre plus etc to make sure you reach as wide an audience as possible.
  3. Have fluid routes into your organisation. School leaver and higher apprenticeships are great, but so is emotional intelligence, diligence and willingness to work hard and learn.  Also shout about those employees who have taken a different route up the hierarchy.
  4. Hire for attitude and provide line manager training to develop individual’s skills.
  5. Offer relevant, clear training and development at all levels that is accessible to those who would benefit from it.
  6. Offer planned and structured work experience programmes and advertise them!

I am aware that this list is by no way exhaustive and am also very aware that a culture of ‘jobs for the boys/girls’ is still rife.  The culture of hiring also needs to adapt and that I’m afraid is a harder nut to crack and a whole other topic altogether!

Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences.  Do you have something like this in place that works?  Best wishes Natalie