The pandemic has already had a considerable impact on the economy, with job vacancies down, redundancies announced and more job losses likely in future. Young people entering the job market this year are likely to be particularly badly hit by the current economic crisis.

Last week, Sutton Trust research found that:

  • Almost half of current undergraduates (46%) believe the pandemic has had a negative effect on their chances of finding a job.
  • Over three-fifths (61%) of employers offering work experience placements have had to cancel their schemes.
  • 39% of graduate employers say they expect to hire fewer graduates, or none at all, in the next 12 months.

This is all likely to have a considerable impact on social mobility, as data suggests that an economic landscape with fewer opportunities is likely to hit those from disadvantaged backgrounds the hardest. When opportunities are scarce, it is those with the sharpest elbows who succeed.

Low social mobility was already an issue long before the pandemic. Only last year, the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission together published a report highlighting stark inequalities across the UK’s top jobs, particularly in politics, business and the media. Elitist Britain 2019 showed that Britain’s most influential people are over 5 times more likely to have been privately educated – notably 52% of senior judges, 48% of FTSE 350 CEOs and 29% of MPs, despite only 7% of the UK population having received a private education.

Both organisations are now working together to encourage employers to act. The Sutton Trust is not only engaging industry in their access to the professions programmes, but also supporting them to think about what more can be done to shift the dial on Social Mobility.

The Social Mobility Commission’s dedicated Employers’ Programme spans high level engagement with employers, in-depth guidance and reports, a series of masterclass webinars and the Employers Toolkit which was published last year and includes recommendations on the data employers should be collecting to benchmark their progress.

To complement this work, and add detail to some of the most common questions asked by employers, last week the Sutton Trust also published Social mobility in the workplace, an employer’s guide. It provides detailed guidance for employers to use alongside the Toolkit and help them put in place many of its recommendations. We hope that together, these two resources will help employers drive action.

The Sutton Trust’s top five tips for improving social mobility in the workplace, outlined in the guidance, are:

  1. Measure socio-economic diversity

This will enable you to identify where the gaps are in recruitment, retention and progression. It will help you target interventions and enable long term tracking and changes achieved over time.

  1. Build a talent pipeline

To get the best talent, ensure that your opportunities are open to all applicants, irrespective of their background. These can be things like openly advertising opportunities and where possible creating alternative routes into your organisation.

  1. Improve recruitment practices

Put systems and processes in place to ensure that you can assess applicants’ achievements in context and make sure recruitment practices are open and transparent. It is also really important to have honest dialogue internally about what talent is.

  1. Keep and nurture talent

It is not just about workforce measurements and effective recruitment, you need to address things happening within you organisation that have the potential to undo the other measures put in place. This includes monitoring the class pay gap, ensuring promotion and work allocation processes are fair and creating an inclusive, welcoming culture that celebrates diversity.

  1. Look outside your workplace

You don’t have to do this alone! There are lots of amazing institutions and organisations that have expertise when it comes to working with, and supporting, people from diverse backgrounds. Work in partnership with them. It will not only enable them to expand the great work they are doing, but will also ensure your contribution is as impactful as possible.

We don’t have all the answers and the social mobility agenda is still relatively young in comparison to other diversity strands. However, we think that these resources, when used in conjunction with each other, will help deepen understanding and provide practical advice to help employers maximise progress, within their capacity and resources.

This is not the silver bullet to solve the problem and there is still much work to be done. Over time, this guidance will inevitably develop. The Sutton Trust and Social Mobility Commission are excited to be working together to explore a shared approach, present insights from our two organisations and make advice as clear and accessible as possible to employers.

We are also keen to hear from employers on any issues they face which are not currently addressed, so that in time it can be a tool for positive change irrespective of sector, organisational size, structure or financial constraints.

I urge organisations and individuals to double their efforts and cement long term commitments to social mobility. It has the potential to have a significant impact on individuals, your organisation and society more broadly. In my role at the Trust, I have the privilege of working with and supporting students who are among the most talented, driven and resilient that I have ever met. We all need to work together to ensure when the time comes for them to leave education and enter the world of work, your organisations’ doors are still open to them. I have no doubt that this can help your organisation towards a more positive and productive environment as a result

Let’s work together to ensure everyone has a decent chance for a better future.

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