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Breaking Down Barriers for Early Talent to Increase Social Mobility

All evidence suggests that disadvantaged students in the UK have a harder time getting onto the career ladder. It’s therefore no surprise that early career leaders, in both the private and public sector, are increasingly putting social mobility at the top of their strategic agenda. As the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) reported in their annual survey, over 70% of ISE employer members now say that increasing the social diversity of their intake is a high or medium priority. Back in 2015 only 36% of our employers had social mobility on their agenda. 

This is good news, but there is still so much to be done to break down long-standing barriers of entry and open opportunities to disadvantaged early talent across the UK. As an organisation that is highly passionate about social mobility (AMS Social Mobility), AMS works closely with our early careers clients to make improvements and steps forward in the way they are attracting, selecting and nurturing less advantaged candidates. Here are a few of the most important considerations for leaders working to support social mobility through their early career programmes:

1. Building programmes and partnerships into your strategy that directly support social mobility is critical. Traditional routes into an early career programme can be less accessible for disadvantaged students, so creating programmes directly targeting specific groups can create new routes in, opening a door to their future that they might not have even known existed. Work experience programmes, insight days, diversity-focused internships and even specific apprenticeship schemes can greatly increase the pool of diverse candidates entering your organisation and can be a key feeder into your more traditional graduate and apprenticeship schemes through a robust conversion process. 

2. Authentic attraction is a powerful way to attract and engage candidates from different backgrounds. Providing a realistic view of the role and the experience someone will have on your early career programmes is more appealing to students than fancy imagery or over produced videos. They want to hear from other diverse individuals on your programmes and to understand what a day in the life of an apprentice, intern or graduate entails. Creating a sense of belonging through your advertising will help students from less advantaged backgrounds feel more confident that they too can flourish in an early career programme.  This doesn’t have to be expensive – user generated content can be created and shared across social media. Diverse early career employees can be great ambassadors for creating content, as well as going out onto campus to provide advice and act as role models. 

3. Fair assessment processes are equally important to ensure there is no adverse impact on any candidates. Many steps can be taken to remove barriers in the process: removing CVs, reducing grade requirements, introducing blended assessments, and removing group exercises, to name a few. There has been a significant shift in assessment approaches across UK early career employers in the past 10 years. According to the ISE, the inclusion of A level grades as entry criteria onto graduate programmes has dropped from 40% in 2013/2014 to 9% in 2022/2023. This change, coupled with a significantly reduced requirement for a 2:1, demonstrates that employers want graduates but are less worried about grades, which are heavily influenced by social mobility. 

With a more diverse set of candidates applying and making it through the initial steps of the assessment process, employers need to also focus on removing barriers at the latter stages: shortlisting, interview and/or assessment centre. Two ways to do this include:

Conducting non-bias training for all individuals conducting the final stage assessments. Even seasoned hiring managers benefit greatly from this training, focusing specifically on diverse students coming through the process and the biases that need to be avoided. 

Providing additional coaching and support for candidates through the process. Less advantaged candidates will often have less support as they make applications, so employers need to build in this support around areas such as test preparation and what to expect at the assessment centre.

4. Post offer support to help prepare candidates for day one can make the biggest difference to successfully onboarding and retaining your diverse early talent. There needs to be a robust process in place post-offer to engage with your hires. At a minimum, assign them a buddy or mentor who will be in touch regularly while they wait to start. Recruiter touchpoints, such as drop-in webinars and 121 calls, are also very well accepted by candidates, especially those from a diverse background. These touchpoints create a safe space to discuss topics that will help prepare the individual for day one – dress code, travel, what to expect in the first week, support available, adjustments needed, etc. Employers are also increasingly providing training during the keep-warm phase, focusing mainly on the soft skills required when the individual starts (collaboration, communication, resilience, wellbeing, etc). This is a win-win for new hires and employers – individuals are highly engaged and better prepared when they join.

5. Measuring social mobility with robust data can prove more challenging than other types of diversity reporting, but equally important. Social mobility measures can be complicated to define, with multiple questions recommended to gain a sense of a candidate’s social mobility status. Many organisations do not yet ask any questions around social mobility on their early career application forms, deeming it near to impossible to understand how they are doing in this space. At a minimum, add social mobility questions into the diversity section of your application process. Ensuring it is clear why you are collecting it, that it is confidential and will not impact the recruitment process can help increase the completion of these questions. Once you start collecting this data you can track candidate progress through the selection process, identify any adverse impact and measure career progression and retention. Data is key to evolving and improving your social mobility strategy so don’t delay capturing this information. 

There is still much to be done to reduce the inequalities we see every day, but there are clear steps employers can take to make a difference, opening up new doors to disadvantaged students and supporting them as they navigate the recruitment process. Whether you are working in the public or private sector, hire a small number of graduates a year or hundreds, finding ways to increase your pipeline of candidates with lower social mobility, capturing this data so you can measure outcomes and engaging the business in this process will lead to stronger diversity hiring and help to level the playing field for strong, young talent across the UK.

 

To find out more about how YPO can help, visit our managing recruitment framework.

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Author

Lauren Cunningham

Client Director – Early Careers & Campus
AMS
AMS work with clients across the globe, learning what it takes to build a high performing employer. It starts with talent; sourcing, selecting and keeping the right people in the right jobs. AMS has 10,000+ experts, across 120+ countries, speaking more than 50 languages, delivering projects for the world’s most admired companies.