Articles 3 min read

Three ways companies can drive social mobility – and benefit from it

All of us have been affected by Covid-19 in some way, even if it’s only the enforced relocation of the office to the living room.

But the pandemic has hit some harder than others. As many of us eagerly anticipate returning pleasures – think pub gardens, or haircuts administered by an actual hairdresser – others are left to mull long-term challenges. 

One of the hardest to tackle will be sluggish social mobility. For those of less privileged backgrounds, Covid-19 looks set to make it even harder to access opportunities to progress. Without support, they risk falling into what’s been dubbed a mobility “dark age”.

Thankfully, we know that there are thousands of companies that’ll continue to provide opportunities to people of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicities and genders.

To support you, we’ve considered three areas that can directly promote social mobility and build more inclusive workplaces: apprenticeships, skills & training and remote working.


Since 2017’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy, the number of apprentices from disadvantaged backgrounds has fallen by more than a third. That compares to a 23% drop in more affluent starters.

This is because the levy prioritises support for the more expensive, ‘higher-level’ apprenticeships. It’s a scheme that’s increasingly weighted towards those who can afford the comparatively low salaries.

Now, in the midst of Covid-19, this struggle to promote social mobility looks set to continue. Apprenticeships are now on the chopping block. New starts dropped by 80% after just one month in lockdown.

But we’d argue that apprenticeships of all kinds should be viewed as long-term investments, rather than short-term costs. And, as most investment experts know, panic selling doesn’t work. Standing by your apprentices offers three benefits:

  • Ensures skilled talent for the future (especially vital in sectors facing generational brain-drain, like engineering)
  • Boosts engagement and prevents turnover
  • Provides new approaches to old problems, supporting faster returns to growth.

With government talks now underway about an ‘apprenticeship guarantee’, now’s the time for employers to make apprenticeships a vehicle for social mobility. Those able to see beyond the short-term costs will benefit most.

Skills, training & experience

The hospitality industry landscape at the moment is, well, inhospitable. Though a thaw is expected, as pubs, bars and restaurants reopen, many job losses won’t be reversed. 

This disproportionately impacts young, low-income workers. As jobs in affected industries remain scarce, their prospects of social mobility shrink. This will necessitate widespread retraining for candidates, and two separate mindset shifts for employers:

Experience as a predictor of job suitability

With many jobs in hospitality and services wiped out by Covid-19, workers need to look further afield. That’s a problem, however, when employers continue to laud experience as a predictor of job suitability. 

Many low-income workers will be seeking work in unfamiliar industries. Rather than discounting them out of hand, we’re advocating for a shift in the data employers value most: from experience to behaviour, or soft skills. Technical knowledge can be learnt, often quickly, but certain behaviours are much harder for employers to find. 

By considering talent from outside your field or function, and assessing on the basis of behaviour, you’ll create a more diverse workforce. This can mean new, creative approaches that will benefit your business. Your contribution to social mobility will be a happy byproduct.

On-job training

Social mobility is also restricted by poor access to at-work training for low-paid workers. About half of all employees from disadvantaged backgrounds have received no training at all since leaving school. 

At work, this lack of training is at least partially driven by employers’ expectation that people will move on, making any investment a waste. But this fear misrepresents the facts. Actually, two thirds of employees leave because of a lack of development opportunities. 

At the moment, training is inaccessible to those who need it most. Not only will improving access boost social mobility, but, perhaps more pressingly for employers, it will cut turnover and boost engagement. Again, a worthy investment, not a cost.

Here’s a strong step-by-step guide on building a balanced development plan.

Regional imbalances & remote working

Due to the costs involved, those from working-class backgrounds are 70% less likely to ever move town or city in search of work, and are 300% less likely to move to London. This perpetuates access to opportunity for those who can afford to move or live in the country’s most expensive hubs.

But it also means that companies based in places like London are limited to only sourcing local talent, rather than tapping into the wider population. Remote working can change this.

Companies like BBVA, one of Spain’s largest banks, are now turning away from traditional office hubs and distributing their workforces remotely. Companies embracing this approach enjoy three key benefits:

  • Cost savings on office space and, again, turnover
  • Allows for more diverse workforces, by tapping into social mobility ‘cold spots’ (like the UK’s North East).
  • Employee engagement due to improved work/life balance

Mobility’s reward

The main theme here is this: measures boosting diversity and social mobility will have wider positive impacts on your business. Whether it’s engagement, cost savings or creative potential, social mobility need not be seen in a vacuum. Yes, it’s not the sole responsibility of businesses to boost social mobility. But you can play a massive role, and be rewarded for it.

Want to make the most of more inclusive hiring? See if our behaviour-based assessment can help. To discover more, get in touch here.

The Business Transformation Network have shared this article in partnership with Arctic Shores.

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