Binda Patel on the importance of collecting good data and working together in the social mobility sector.

At the Bridge Group’s excellent Bridging the Gaps conference the other week, Melanie Richards, Vice Chair of KPMG, opened the event with a talk on the importance of data collection and collaboration within the social mobility sector.

I’ve worked in this sector for eight years now and I couldn’t agree more. I’m often asked two key questions by recruitment and diversity teams: how do we attract the most talented young people, and how do we keep them? Tough questions! My response, like Melanie, often comes down to data and working together.

One excellent example of such collaboration is Access Accountancy. Pioneering in its approach, Access Accountancy is a charity dedicated to widening the talent pool and providing a greater breadth of opportunities in the accountancy profession. It has brought together over 20 organisations who have all agreed to four commitments:

  • Providing a target number of 30 hour work placements to students from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Collecting and monitoring socioeconomic data of applicants and hires
  • Taking part in externally validated reviews of Access Accountancy
  • Generating interest in accountancy by delivering common messages in more target schools and colleges

Over 1,200 students have already received work placements through Access Accountancy and students are surveyed to determine the impact of the placements. Over 3.5 million data points have been collected on applicants and hires in 2017 alone and this data is currently being crunched and analysed by the Bridge Group, who act as the charity’s external evaluation partners. The analysis will enable Access Accountancy signatories to understand how socially mobile the sector is, identify access challenges and look for practical solutions as a collective.

There is an unprecedented appetite amongst employers to work collaboratively which is brilliant and should be encouraged. I know how powerful projects like Access Accountancy and PRIME (in law) have been in uniting professions. But this only gets us so far. If we want to ensure our work is meaningful, we need to take a more sophisticated approach to evaluation. This means widespread collection and robust analysis of data.

With the right data, organisations can work collectively to understand where they are now, identify gaps and make more informative decisions on next steps. Ultimately such changes can only improve the experience of young people and the effectiveness of our programmes.But this needs to be a team effort. We need more organisations working together to collect and share data so we can create an evidence-led approach to our work. This transparency is necessary to bring about real change.

But there are signs we’re moving in the right direction. With the brilliant work of organisations such as the Bridge Group and Rare Recruitment, we are certainly making substantial progress, and I look forward to seeing more innovation around how we engage with our most talented and ambitious young people.

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