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Why great leaders are thinking about social mobility

Thursday 19th November

Why great leaders are thinking about social mobility

Two truths about this seemingly everlasting pandemic:

  1. It has, of course, hit everyone in some way.
  2. It’s hit some much harder than others.

As some of us eagerly await returning pleasures (think pub gardens, or having your hair cut by an actual hairdresser), many now mull the long-term challenges. Specifically, sluggish social mobility.

Without support, this group risks falling into a so-called mobility “dark age”, where opportunity is scarcer than ever.

This is a nightmare scenario for company leaders, who can gain more from strong mobility than they might first expect. Here are three areas where employers can both contribute to, and directly benefit from social mobility:  


Since 2017’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy, apprentice numbers from disadvantaged backgrounds have fallen by more than a third

Now, the struggle to promote social mobility through apprenticeships looks set to continue. Apprenticeships are on the chopping block – new starts dropped by 80% after just one month in lockdown.

But we’d argue that apprenticeships of all kinds should be viewed as long-term investments, rather than short-term costs. Standing by your apprentices offers three benefits:

  • Ensures skilled talent for the future (especially vital in sectors facing generational brain-drain, like engineering)
  • Boosts engagement and prevents turnover
  • Provides new approaches to old problems through cognitive diversity, supporting faster innovation and growth.

With government talks underway on an ‘apprenticeship guarantee’, now’s the time for employers to make them a vehicle for social mobility. Those able to see beyond the short-term costs stand to make considerable gains.

Skills, training & experience

The hospitality industry landscape at the moment is, well, inhospitable. Though there may well be another thaw, as pubs, bars and restaurants reopen, many of those let go won’t be rehired. 

This disproportionately impacts young, low-income workers. As jobs in affected industries remain scarce, their prospects of social mobility shrink. Many will have to retrain – meaning employers will need to make two separate mindset shifts:

Experience as an indicator of job suitability

Many workers formerly employed in hospitality will now need to look further afield. That’s a problem, however, when employers continue to laud experience as a predictor of job suitability. 

Many low-income workers will be seeking work in unfamiliar industries. Rather than discounting them out of hand, we’re pushing for a shift in the data employers use to gauge suitability: from experience to behaviour. Technical knowledge can be learnt – often quickly – but certain behaviours are much harder for employers to find. 

By considering talent from outside your field, and assessing on the basis of behaviour, you’ll create a more diverse workforce. This can mean new, creative approaches that’ll benefit your business. Your contribution to social mobility will be a happy byproduct.

On-job training

Poor access to skills training for low-paid workers also restricts social mobility. About half of all employees from disadvantaged backgrounds have received no training at all since leaving school. 

This lack of training is at least partly driven by employers’ expectation that employees will soon move on, making any investment a waste. But this fear misrepresents the facts. Actually, two thirds of employees leave because of a lack of development opportunities. 

So, today, training is inaccessible to those who need it most. Not only will improving access boost social mobility, but, perhaps more pressingly for employers, it will cut turnover and lift engagement. Again, a worthy investment.

Quickly, here’s a strong step-by-step guide on building a balanced development plan.

Regional imbalances & remote working

Uprooting costs mean that working class individuals are 70% less likely to ever move town or city in search of work, and are 300% less likely to move to London.

So, companies based in places like London are limited to only sourcing local talent (the people that can afford to live there), rather than tapping into the wider population. Remote working can change this.

Companies like BBVA, one of Spain’s largest banks, are now turning away from traditional office hubs and distributing their workforces remotely. One of our own customers, Capita, has committed to cutting its office space by one third. Organisations embracing remote working enjoy three key benefits:

  • Cost savings on office space and employee turnover
  • More diverse workforces, by tapping into social mobility ‘cold spots’ (e.g. the UK’s North East).
  • Better employee engagement due to improved work/life balance

Mobility’s reward

Our point is: Anything boosting diversity and social mobility will have wider positive impacts on your business. Whether it’s engagement, cost savings or creative potential, consider whether the short-term costs really outweigh the gains. Our GM for UK&I, Al Frater, continues:

“As work changes, we’re seeing an evolution in the skillsets employers want. So it’s never been more critical to tap into every possible talent pool. And, provided you’re still assessing for the right capabilities, it’s a no-brainer to open your process up to candidates from less privileged backgrounds. Social status has been slightly neglected in the D&I discussion compared to other categories – now’s the best time to change that.”

We know it’s not the sole responsibility of businesses to boost social mobility. But every organisation can play a massive role, and be rewarded for it.

Seeking the benefits of more inclusive hiring? Our behaviour-based psychometric assessment can help. To discover more, get in touch here.

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