David Willett, Commercial Director, The Open University

Britain is an ambitious nation. According to research from The Open University’s Free Your Ambition campaign more than nine in 10 Britons have an ambition in life, from earning more money to wanting a better future for their family.

However, not everyone has the confidence or ability to harness their own ambitions through education and learning. There is a perception that it is getting harder for people to move up in society. The majority of those questioned for the recent Social Mobility Barometer believe there are still fewer opportunities for people from disadvantaged backgrounds compared to those who are better off.

In "Elites in the UK: Pulling Away?", The Sutton Trust recently set out recommendations on the role the education system and labour market have to play in addressing social mobility. It is now calling for a significant increase in degree and higher level apprenticeships, coupled with a focus on ensuring young people from lower and moderate income backgrounds can access them.

An idea supported by the majority of Social Barometer respondents, who think apprenticeships offer the best opportunity for progression.

It is therefore critical employers promote apprenticeships, as a learning vehicle for all, not just for school leavers or younger employees. Increasing the skills of all UK workers, and ensuring the most disadvantaged people have access to the same educational opportunities is crucial for the country’s future prosperity and economic success.

Developing ambition through different work-based training helps level the playing field and provides opportunities for organisations and individuals alike.

But closing the social divide isn’t just down to addressing a perceived lack of opportunity.

Research from our ambition campaign, which is seeking to inspire more people, identified another issue - confidence, or the lack of it. It found those from lower-income households are 38% more likely to lack confidence in their abilities and also worry more about the prospect of failure. Consequently, it becomes harder for them to achieve their ambition and leads to decreased professional and educational success.

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Inspiring those who are less confident has been a central component of our recent campaign.

Teaming up with Sky Media, we profiled four of the organisation’s employees who have combined flexible degree study with employment. It was only by making the decision to do a degree with The Open University and giving learning a second chance, that they had the confidence to apply for a role at Sky. Three of the four candidates actually landed their jobs before graduating, showing the credibility of OU qualifications with large organisations and the employability of our students.

Fortunately, we are already seeing more and more companies scrapping requirements for new-starters to have a degree as a minimum – as well as opening up degree-apprenticeship schemes to a wider talent pool.

But whether it's an apprenticeship or a degree, employers must look to proactively harness the passion of all employees and potential recruits, inspiring them to have the confidence that they have what it takes to succeed.

It's critical that we continue to offer everyone, irrespective of their background, an equal shot at achieving their dream.

David Willett, Commercial Director at The Open University

The Open University partnered with Opinium Research to undertake market research amongst 5,000 adults, with boosted samples in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The data included quotas by age and gender and was weighted to be nationally representative. The research was conducted between 4 and 11 December 2019.

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