Theresa May – are you ready to ELBA in support of social mobility?

 In Blog, CEO's blog, Community

ELBA’s broad purpose is supporting social mobility, which is a big target to pitch at. Our particular approach is based on channelling the contribution of business to the bigger goal. This is very relevant to the Prime Minister’s views reported in the FT in which she calls on business to play a greater part in spreading the benefits of growth around.

Well, the Prime Minister and business leaders could do no better than follow the example of ELBA corporate members who between them each year put 10,000 employee volunteering sessions into local community organisations and offer 500 jobs and placements to people who otherwise would not have the connections to get into careers with prospects and decent earnings.

They should also look at the “State of the Nation” report published this week by the Social Mobility Commission. This annual report marks the progress (or not) of social mobility as a whole and looks at a number of determining factors. The 2016 report makes for depressing reading as it shows that for the first time in 70 years the generation of young people starting their careers now are earning less than their parents did at the same point in their career. There is also a survey that shows that many adults believe that family background and where you are from continues to count for much more than personal merit in determining life chances.

The report makes a number of recommendations for improvement across early years, education and training, jobs and employment and housing. They all have merit but three stood out for me. Firstly, making pupil destinations part of the accountability framework for schools. I would suggest going further and extending the destinations accountability of universities beyond just publishing whether graduates move into employment, but whether those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are moving into graduate level employment to the same extent as their more advantaged peers.

Second, the recommendation to make social mobility reputational for universities by publishing a social mobility league table. My concern is that this might just be about entry to higher education, not what happens afterwards, and the new league table should also include destinations. ELBA has recently researched the employment destinations of students from our part of London and it is clear that those from disadvantaged backgrounds and the non-traditional universities do less well – supporting similar national research. Widening Participation, which has made progress in the last decade or so, must be matched by Fairer Destinations.

These two points are all linked to the disparity in family and social networks which mean young people from less well-off families do not have the information or contacts to make better careers and university choices, nor to get into the best jobs on graduation, no matter how highly they have achieved.

Which takes us to the last recommendation from the report to highlight – introducing a legal ban on unpaid internships – hurrah to that. Internships, which were imported from across the pond, were designed with good intent to open up new opportunities, but they have had the reverse effect. Getting an internship has become all about your family contacts and networks, and little to do your own merit. Add to that the predisposition to take graduates from higher league universities as reported by the Social Mobility Commission in September. Then add in the inability of young graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds to work for free, supported by the bank of Mum and Dad, and you have a toxic cocktail of firms recruiting “people like us” and the social mobility indicators moving backwards.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. ELBA members are showing by example how to open up their under-graduate and graduate schemes to a much wider spectrum of bright young talent, recognising the commercial as well as the equitable reasons for doing so. And all at the London Living Wage. I hope the Prime Minister gets some time to talk to them about how it’s done. Maybe she is ready to ELBA?

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