Increasing the divide

A few years ago I was debating the issue of unpaid internships and the effect of this on social mobility.  The common theme at the time was that paying for internships would solve the problem. It was a compelling argument because of it’s simplicity, but fundamentally wrong.

One of the biggest issues with internships is the availability and transparency of opportunity. When opportunities are only available to those that are in the know, that are connected, or that are referred, paying rather than solving the problem of access just exacerbates it. This isn’t to say that internships should be unpaid, far from it, but that it needs to be combined with other systemic changes.

There is a similar argument to be played out in relation to university fees. The simple argument goes that by charging for university you restrict the number of entrants from lower social classes. Again, it is a compelling one. But one that isn’t backed up by data. Simply, there is nothing that would suggest that free education, without means testing, would do anything that subsidise the dominant middle classes.

In 2015, when the idea was mooted, a total cost of £10bn per annum was suggested to introduce this measure, equivalent to 11.5% of the UK education budget. Which begs the question what could be achieved by investing this money in primary and secondary education in areas with the lowest social mobility?

If you are an 18 year old in London and the South East you are more likely to go to university than if you are an 18 year old in any other part of the UK, by quite a significant margin. In fact, when you start to look at the entrants by parliamentary constituency, there is significant correlation with the areas of the greater social mobility highlighted by the Social Mobility Commission.

Assuming there is a finite amount of money available to government, the evidence clearly suggests that the best bet for improving social mobility is investment in the compulsory education system in those areas where the outcomes of young people are the lowest. That’s before we consider the alternative routes into the labour market other than university, such as apprenticeships.

The idea of free university is an appealing one, but unless significant changes are made to the education outcomes of those in the social mobility cold spots, it will do little to benefit social change. Instead, it will disproportionately benefit those who already have better outcomes and continue to widen the social divide.

Five simple steps to improve social mobility

I was genuinely saddened by the news this weekend that Alan Milburn and others were resigning from the board of the Social Mobility Commission. I’ve had interactions with this work for the last seven or eight years and I’ve been a big champion of their agenda.

If there is one good thing that comes from this, I hope it is a renewed focus and energy to address the topic. At the Skills Summit last week I was really pleased to hear the Minister for Education Justine Greening make it a central point of her proposals. But talk on its own won’t change a thing.

I personally believe that businesses and employers can do so much more to drive the social mobility agenda forward, without the need for Government to lead the way. So if you’re serious about putting your effort and energy behind change, here’s a few simple steps you can take.

1. Check out the data. There’s a brilliant social mobility map from the Sutton Trust that you can find here and the State of the Nation 2017 report from the Social Mobility Commission (here) to understand the make up of the geographic area in which you operate. Until you understand the problem you’re going to struggle to fix it.

2. Review your approach to new talent. Do you really need a graduate? And if so, do they really need to come from those universities? Are your recruitment processes stuck in the past? Do they really focus on finding the best possible talent? What are your obligations to the communities within which you operate? Quit whingeing and get behind the apprenticeship levy and make it work.

3. Build relationships with local schools and colleges. Providing opportunities isn’t enough, you’ve got to show that the opportunities are really available – and obtainable. Building a long-term commitment to relationships with local education providers helps not only support the education of all, but also can help raise aspiration.

4. Create sustainable careers. Not only in terms of fair pay and benefits, but training opportunities, security of employment and opportunities for progression and advancement. Mobility is exactly that, it isn’t about charity but opportunity. And that opportunity doesn’t stop when you make the hire.

5. Start to measure. Like every other aspect of diversity within the workplace, you need to understand the construct of your workforce and start to target improvements. We’re more familiar with measuring other areas of diversity (and I’d argue more comfortable with asking the question), but there are some good indicators that can be used some of which you can find here.

And of course, if you want to chat about it or think that we can do some work together, you can always give me a shout.

Cohesion is the next big thing

You want to know what the next big thing for business is going to be? Of course you do, we always want to know the next big thing. Right?

But this time it’s serious. I’m serious.

The next big thing is cohesion.

When we talked about the future of work being human, we were almost there. But not there enough. I’ve been writing on this site for seven years, talking about being the need to be more human focused, but it isn’t quite right. We’ve been distracted by debates around AI and technology and missed the main point.

The future is something much bigger and much more important.

In my forty-four years, the political, economic and social environment has never felt more fragmented, more fragile and frankly more perilous.

As organisations, as employers we have an obligation to bring something to the party that is greater than the simple exchange of labour for money. We have an obligation to bring something that creates more than we extract. That binds and helps communities to heal.

This isn’t simply about corporate responsibility, used by too many organisations as a social-conscious healing makeweight. This is about endeavouring to change the existence of the communities in which we operate through our work, our practice and our existence.

This is about creating workplaces that are safe, both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. Where individuals are respected for who they are, regardless of similarity or difference. That the rules of tolerance and respect are adhered to by all.

This is about building long-term and meaningful partnerships with employees, either individually, collectively or through their organised representation. Ensuring that decisions are made for the benefit of all stakeholders.

This is about developing skills and education for the long-term, both in the workforce and the community – recognising that we have a power to teach and to give, even to those who may not work for us.

This is about looking after those that work for us, on a financial and emotional footing. Ensuring that people are fairly paid for their labour, that the pay is representative of their skills and their contribution, not their gender or their race. That they need not worry in times of sickness or difficulty.

This is about ensuring that we are commercially successful so that we can invest back into the infrastructure that supports employees, creates new jobs and allows us to share that success both directly and indirectly.

And it is about leadership that recognises the importance of every single individual that works in an organisation and genuinely respects the roles and the participation of everyone.

Cohesion is going to be the next big talking point in the world of HR. Don’t forget you read it here.

The future of jobs

Last week the REC published their report on the Future of Jobs. I’d absolutely recommend taking a read of it if you haven’t already. It is freely available here.

What really excited me about the commission was the range of interests being expressed and how much agreement there was in the views being conveyed by different parties. Ultimately, those representing employees, those representing employers and those representing government and special interest groups want pretty much the same thing. The summary conclusions of the report make this abundantly clear.

For employees:
“The best jobs market in the world for individuals is one with opportunities to get
into work and subsequently progress, and one where people have genuine choice in terms of ways of working. A future UK jobs market is also one where individuals feel fulfilled, respected, and recognised, and where people can succeed irrespective of their background. Realising this vision rests largely with the government – particularly with regards to the need for an education system that nurtures individual potential and prepares future generations for the changing world of work. However, a future jobs market must also be one where individuals take personal responsibility for their own career development and take advantage of lifelong learning opportunities. Advice, guidance, and development for all workers is an essential development.”

For employers:
“The best jobs market in the world for an employer is one where evolving skills and staffing needs of employers are easily met, where productivity levels are improving on the back of increased investment in skills, where recruitment procedures have been ‘re-imagined’ to reflect the new world of work, and where management and leadership capability has been radically enhanced. Planning for the future jobs market must be a priority for UK plc and for the public sector. Demographics, ‘flexible hiring’, managing a multigenerational workforce, adapting to new technologies, and the use of data will prove critical to organisational success. As technology, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and robotics gather pace, businesses, recruiters, and managers must plan their workforce more creatively and ensure that they are able to access the talent that they need. Access to UK, EU, and global talent will remain critical, but we also need to see more employers working with schools and colleges.”

For policy makers:
“Policy-makers should seek to ‘get in front’ of the seismic changes that will impact on the jobs market. The government has a key role to play in ensuring that education is adequately preparing young people for this new world of work. The government must also lead a radical focus on lifelong learning and create an infrastructure that enables individuals of all ages to make transitions and compete in this ever-changing jobs market. The Brexit process will have a profound impact on the UK jobs market; we need to ensure that the post-EU landscape is one in which both demand and supply of staff remains vibrant. In addition to a world-class skills and work infrastructure, we need a progressive and balanced immigration system that allows businesses to ll the jobs they have available. We must not take the UK ‘jobs machine’ for granted. There is a need for a proportionate and effective regulatory and taxation landscape that reflects modern working practices while also facilitating job-creation.”

Of course, saying it is easier than making it happen. But we all have the ability to make micro changes that move our organisations in the right direction. And in that, we need to consider the world through the lenses of all the stakeholder groups. Building a successful future means building one in which as many people as possible can share in and profit from that success. If we can do that, we’ll all be able to be proud of the work we’ve done.