Compared to other developed countries, the UK has one of the lowest rates of social mobility. While acknowledging that the reasons behind this extend beyond a single sector, how can the technology sector contribute to improving the opportunities available to all school leavers?
Social mobility in the UK
Simply put, social mobility is the link between where we start in life and where we end up. The term has a range of different definitions and usages but, at its core, social mobility is about inclusiveness. It’s about giving opportunities to everyone, regardless of background or situation.
When it comes to career access and progression, people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are under-represented in many professions. In the UK, around 29% of the total workforce comes from a lower socio-economic background, but – in contrast – only around 6% of doctors, 18% of teachers and 23% of workers in the sector audience. The IT sector is also not representative of the total UK workforce, with 19% of employees coming from a lower socio-economic background.
How can the tech industry support mobility?
Companies are increasingly responding to the need for inclusive hiring practices and career progression. At the same time, the tech sector is in an interesting position – as a sector that can also help equip young people with the digital skills essential for employment in any industry.
Considering examples from the IT industry and beyond, here are four ways tech companies can support social mobility:
Help share the digital skills needed for employability
Digital skills are required for positions across the labor market – from manufacturing or starting your own business to high-tech positions. The tech industry can play a role in equipping students and school leavers with the digital skills needed for work, at an affordable price and in an accessible location. This could be done by offering free virtual training programs. For example, Microsoft offers training to help individuals develop in-demand technical skills. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the company launched an initiative alongside LinkedIn and GitHub to provide free training to support job seekers.
Tech companies can also help by collaborating with charities and educators who offer digital skills training. Capgemini, for example, is partnering with nonprofit CodeYourFuture to offer a free 9-month software engineering training program to refugees and others from disadvantaged backgrounds. The program provides access to digital and soft skills training for people 18 and older who would otherwise struggle to access education.
Raise awareness of job opportunities in technology
People from lower socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in the IT industry. To change this, raising awareness of professional roles within the sector is a crucial starting point. Those coming from schools in more deprived areas are unlikely to have such easy access to career guidance, work placements or personal networks that offer insight into the sector.
Companies can help solve this problem through school outreach programs and targeted, affordable work experience placements. These help students develop networks and acquire employability skills. Last year it was great to see National Grid unveil a new virtual work experience program to focus on this for the energy sector. Working with MyKindaFuture, a specialist in supporting underrepresented talent, the company offered a week-long work experience for Year 12 and Year 13 students from disadvantaged areas in South London. Similar examples exist in the technology sector – and such initiatives offer a fantastic way to help young people explore the wide variety of IT roles available.
Support access to technology roles
Actions to increase awareness of career options in technology should be complemented by application processes that include different profiles. Some companies in tech and beyond have already improved the way they hire by introducing strengths-based or contextualized hiring practices that consider access to training opportunities and work experience. For example, the law firm Browne Jacobson uses a contextual recruitment system for its training contracts, with contextualized applications to better understand the contexts in which academic results were obtained. Similarly, Capgemini follows a strengths-based recruitment process, where a candidate’s suitability for a position is assessed based on their preferences and abilities, rather than their academic credentials.
There must also be affordable pathways into the tech sector outside of academia. Computer science courses are already widely offered. Professional experience and internships, which can often lead to learning and employment, must be accessible to all financially and geographically. KPMG, for example, includes criteria in its professional services work experience program to support candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with many interns later joining the company’s apprenticeship programs.
Companies need to be aware of how candidates view their culture and values. Applicants must be able to see themselves enjoying the workplace. When speaking with a recent Capgemini graduate, she highlighted the value of having employee representatives from diverse backgrounds available to discuss before applying to the company. This helps candidates see how they could excel in the company.
Support career progression
Companies can help by setting up mentoring and progression support programs to help employees from different backgrounds excel at the same pace. Turning to other sectors, HMRC’s Stride mentorship program offers employers a way to address the link between socio-economic background and career progression. The program connects mentees with senior leaders, while providing access to dedicated opportunities and learning.
Taking another example, Capgemini offers a 5-year compensation and progression model designed to accelerate progression through learning grades and salary levels. This ensures equal progress between the company’s apprentices, whatever their background.
The technology sector occupies an interesting position when it comes to social mobility. Not only can the sector help to improve mobility within its own sector, but it is also able to help individuals find employment in most other sectors, supporting training that gives students and others IT skills needed for their careers. In this way, the tech sector can help young people interested in the digital world find careers that matter to them in any industry.
Initiatives to support social mobility already exist in the technology sector, but we can always do more. It would be great to see these initiatives unfold more and more concerted thinking with educators, who are well placed to inspire young people looking to choose their careers.
By Sally Caughey, Head of Digital Inclusion UK at Capgemini
This article is part of a series. See Sally’s article on ‘Fourth industrial revolution: the skills needed for the future”.
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