It is an alarming and uncomfortable fact that the UK has one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world. People born into low-income families, regardless of their talent or their hard work, do not have the same access to opportunities as those born into more privileged circumstances. Research from the Sutton Trust found that, by the age of 42, those educated privately will earn nearly £200,000 more than people educated in a state school.
In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference last week, David Cameron made tackling the UK’s poor record on social mobility one of the priorities of this government. Few would disagree with this sentiment, nor the moral requirement to act.
But improving social mobility is about more than simply “doing the right thing”. It is a critical business and economic imperative. A more socially diverse workforce will drive better economic and social outcomes, with the OECD estimating that income inequality cost the UK nine percentage points of GDP growth between 1990 and 2010. Failure to provide all young people with access to training and development will leave the UK lacking the skills needed to adapt to an ever-evolving economic environment.
Take automation. Deloitte research has shown that 35 per cent of jobs in the UK are at risk of being automated over the next 20 years. Many of these are low or unskilled positions which are more likely to be occupied by those who have grown up in low-income families. There is a danger that impending changes in our workforce will further disadvantage sections of our society, but it needn’t be the case.
These jobs are being replaced by higher-skilled, non-routine roles which typically pay more than their lower-skilled equivalents. Many of these jobs are in industries where the UK excels, such as technology, creative, education, and financial and professional services.
To fill these jobs of the future, businesses have told us they need more people with digital know-how, management capability, creativity, entrepreneurship and complex problem-solving skills. We need more people who think and innovate differently, come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring a range of perspectives and experience into the workplace, along with an education system that enables this. It simply doesn’t make sense if businesses fail to ensure a level playing field in their recruitment processes, inadvertently limiting the talent they attract.
Firms must be prepared to make radical changes to the way in which they hire and train young people. Last month, Deloitte became the largest British business to adopt contextualised academics, helping our recruiters to make more informed choices about candidates by considering the context in which their academic qualifications have been achieved. We also introduced school and university-blind recruitment to mitigate the risk of unconscious bias, and increased the size of our work experience programme for students from low-income communities.
Companies must also make a genuine commitment to providing real and meaningful apprenticeships. Research has shown that those completing the best apprenticeship schemes earn more in their lifetime than graduates from all but the Russell Group universities. Deloitte’s BrightStart Business Apprenticeship is doubling in size this year to 200 vacancies and provides an alternative entry route into the firm, along with the opportunity to gain a professional or technical qualification.
We hope this combination of measures will help our firm attract a more diverse pool of talent and ensure we have access to the skills we need to serve our clients.
Business and government must lead together to drive improvements in skills and employability. We are encouraged by the focus of the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, which is taking evidence from both businesses (including Deloitte) and education institutions on how young people can be best prepared for the world of work. Strong connections between employers and schools will be vital for improving the employability of young people.
We believe these are steps in the right direction, but still more needs to be done. For our economy to thrive in the future, opportunities must be open to everyone so that those with potential have the chance to fulfil it.