It was insightful to hear from guest speakers UK Trendence, the Institute of Student Employers, Blackbridge Communications and Rt Hon David Lammy at the first GTI Breakfast News of 2018, discussing social mobility and what this means for the future of students and young people. In order to tackle this challenge, collaboration between universities and employers is key to ensure students are provided with the opportunities to fulfil their future aspirations.
With 75% of employers taking action to improve diversity last year, and 67% of employers stating social mobility as a high or medium priority for 2018 (ISE, 2018), it is positive to see how there is a shift in focus being made by employers, as social mobility is becoming more of a recognised priority.But how can universities also play their part in enabling social mobility? We have supported universities to achieve their widening participation initiatives, enabling them to engage the hardest to reach and create opportunities for those that don’t know their possibilities. In order to inspire early talent, Blackbridge Communications made the following points:
Be upfront with your students – provide examples of how professionals have made it to the top, regardless of their social profiles. The Law Society launched its ‘Solicitors for Social Mobility: the Ambassadors’ initiative to promote role-models from non-traditional backgrounds who have achieved their ambitions, to provide tips and advice to young people looking to pursue a career in law. We know this works, where we regularly capture a diverse range of student success stories, which in turn inspire students to take that leap to realise their full career potential.
- Think beyond the careers service – often, young people don’t feel a careers service is for them due to their background, therefore careers advice should be provided as part of the curriculum. Working within faculties/schools, has enabled us to identify barriers and research students’ lived experiences, we used this insight to enhance students’ successes. This includes our Art Employability Toolkit, which increased the visibility of self-employment/portfolio career options for students providing them with the skills to enter their chosen industry.
- Throw the windows open – let students and young people get a flavour for what certain career paths would look like. PathMotion provides an employee engagement platform to provide students with the opportunity to interact with employers to gain an understanding of what it would be like to work for them. We have created opportunities for students, particularly for those who don’t know their possibilities. We invite our business contacts to engage with students, so that students get a feel for what it would be like to work within for example, different legal identities and sectors.
- Don’t speak the language of the privileged – engage and communicate with individuals in a way in which they understand. As quoted in the Social Mobility Employer Index, “avoid unexplained acronyms, industry terms, or vague competencies, e.g. ‘commercial awareness’, without explanation.” We have experienced an increase in students using our online resources because we changed the language and imagery we used, in particular creating different resources to support students at a programme level rather than a generic approach.
- Be brave – what opportunities are there to encourage students to make a better future for themselves? Whirlpool’s Care Counts campaign provides schools with washers and dryers to improve attendance rates; this resulted in 86% of high-risk students increasing their attendance during the 2016-17 programme (Whirlpool, 2018). We don’t just source opportunities amongst our business contacts, we recruit students who have no work experience to complete an internship with us. These students form part of a programme bespoke to them so that they build on their confidence and skills.
Through our experience of providing expert trusted advice to UK SMEs, we have experience of engaging with businesses to enable connectivity between universities and employers. This ensures universities are equipping their students with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in their chosen career path and ensures employers are providing equal opportunities to all students, maximising the best of the talent pool.
As two-thirds of employers say that since becoming inclusive they have seen an increase in skills and a decrease in absenteeism (Blackbridge Communications, 2018), this highlights the importance of why social mobility should remain at the top of the agenda for universities and employers as we continue to tackle this challenge collaboratively.