Social Mobility

The brightest working class talent needs more than privileged social backgrounds to help them break into elite UK firms

The recent study on behalf of Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission claims that top firms are sidelining the UK’s brightest working-class applicants in favour of privileged and “polished” candidates. The report – which surveyed staff from 13 elite accountancy, law and financial services firms – found that those companies recruited nearly their entire staff from the Russell Group universities.

Of course this led to the usual rants on news and social media sites claiming it was the fault of a weak UK education system, which prevents talented state school applicants from gaining a place at those selective leading universities.

But having been in the recruitment industry for over 20 years and placed a broad range of candidates from a myriad of backgrounds into elite UK firms, I can’t agree that our academic system is to blame. In fact, I believe the study has missed a vital issue.

The researchers should head into state schools and ask some of the talented students if they’re even applying to the Russell Group universities. From experience, many feel they lack the softer social skills and confidence needed to apply for a place at one of the top universities. More worryingly, they don’t have the right type of support network in place to help them develop such skills.

To address this issue, those interested in applying need regular access to role models or mentors from the business world to allow them to gain the confidence and poise needed to catch the eye of these prestigious universities. Because I’ve witnessed it myself, once inside those hallowed walls the cream will always rise to the top.

Let’s face it, the UK needs to make the best out of the talent we have if we’re to avoid a continuation of the boom and bust years that have dogged our economic development. So I’d like to see the government bring together schools, universities and businesses leaders to create a support network that ensures the brightest working students who want to progress to the top level have the necessary toolkit of academic and life skills to get them there.