From education to employment

Social mobility: how can the tech sector support young people?

Sally Caughey, UK Head of Digital Inclusion at Capgemini

Compared to other developed countries, the UK has one of the lowest rates of social mobility. While recognising that the reasons behind this stretch beyond any one sector, how can the technology sector help improve the opportunities accessible to all school leavers?

Social mobility in the UK

Put simply, 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 inclusivity. It’s about giving opportunities to everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.

When it comes to access to careers and progression, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in many professions. In the UK, around 29% of the total workforce is from a lower socio-economic background, but – in contrast – only around 6% of doctors, 18% of teachers and 23% of public sector workers. The IT sector is likewise not representative of the total UK workforce, with 19% of employees from a lower socio-economic background.

How can the tech industry support mobility?

Businesses are increasingly responding to the need for inclusive hiring practices and career progression. At the same time, the technology sector occupies an interesting position – as a sector that can also help equip young people with the digital skills crucial for employment in any industry.

Considering examples from the IT sector and beyond, here’s four ways that technology companies can support social mobility:

Help share the digital skills needed for employability

Digital skills are required for job roles across the whole labour market – from manufacturing roles or setting up your own business to advanced technology positions. The technology industry can play a part in equipping students and school leavers with the digital skills needed for work, at a price and venue that’s accessible. This could be by offering free, virtual training programmes. For instance, 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 offer free training to support those looking for employment.

Technology companies can also assist by collaborating with charities and educators who offer digital skills training. Capgemini, for example, partners with non-profit CodeYourFuture to offer a free 9-month software engineering training programme to refugees and others from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme provides access to digital and soft skills training to those 18-years and older who would otherwise struggle to access education.

Raise awareness of technology employment options

Individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented in the IT sector. To change this, increasing awareness of job roles within the sector is a crucial starting point. Those from schools in more disadvantaged areas likely will not have as easy access to employment guidance, work experience placements, or to personal networks that offer insight into the sector.

Companies can help address this through school outreach programmes and targeted, affordable work experience placements. These help students develop networks and learn employability skills. Last year, it was great to see National Grid unveil a new virtual work experience programme to focus on this for the energy sector. Collaborating with MyKindaFuture, a specialist in supporting underrepresented talent, the company introduced a week-long work experience to Year 12 and 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 technology career options need to be complimented by application processes that are inclusive of different backgrounds. Some companies within the technology sector and beyond have already improved how they hire by introducing strengths-based or contextualised recruitment practices that consider access to educational and work experience opportunities. For example, law firm Browne Jacobson uses a contextual recruitment system for its training contracts, with applications contextualised to better understand the settings in which academic results were achieved. Similarly, Capgemini follows a strengths-based recruitment process, where a candidate’s suitability for a role is assessed based on their preferences and abilities, rather than their educational qualifications.

There also need to be affordable routes into the technology sector other than university. IT apprenticeships are already widely offered. Work experience and internships, which can often funnel through to apprenticeships and employment, need to be accessible to everyone financially and geographically. KPMG, for example, includes criteria in its professional services work experience programme to support applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds, with many interns later joining the company’s apprenticeship programmes.

Companies should be mindful of how candidates see their culture and values. Applicants need to be able to see themselves enjoying the workplace. When speaking with a recent Capgemini graduate joiner, she emphasised the value of having employee representatives from a range of backgrounds present available to talk with before applying to the company. This helps candidates see how they could excel at the company.

Assist career progression

Businesses can help by putting mentoring and progression support programmes in place to help employees from different backgrounds excel at the same rate. Looking to other sectors, HMRC’s Stride mentoring programme provides a way for employers to address the link between socio-economic background and career progression. The programme connects mentees with senior leaders, while offering access to dedicated opportunities and learning.

Considering another example, Capgemini offers a 5-year pay and progression model designed to accelerate progression through apprenticeship grades and salary levels. This helps ensure equal progression across the company’s apprentices, no matter their background.

Future growth

The technology sector holds an interesting position when it comes to social mobility. Not only can the sector help improve mobility within its own industry, its able to assist individuals to gain employment in most other industries – through supporting education that equips students and others with the IT skills needed for their careers. In this way the technology sector can help young people who are interested in the digital world find careers that matter to them in any industry.

Initiatives to support social mobility already exist within the technology sector, but there is always more we can do. It would be excellent to see these initiatives rolled out further as well as more joined-up thinking with educators, who are well positioned to inspire young people looking to choose their careers.

By Sally Caughey, UK Head of Digital Inclusion 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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