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Overcoming challenges

Ilaria Cantelli, Education Manager at Uptree on the importance of improving social mobility through education and more inclusive recruitment practices

In the UK today, your social background still highly impacts your opportunities in life. Compared with other developed countries, the UK has a lower rate of social mobility, and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are far less likely to have the chance to climb the social ladder.

The Social Mobility Commission defines social mobility as “the link between a person’s occupation or income and the occupation or income of their parents”. Where there is a strong link, there is a lower level of social mobility. Where there is a weak link, there is a higher level of social mobility(i).

Recent events such as COVID-19 and inflation have only made the inequalities more striking. Ofcom estimated that in 2020, 1.14 million to 1.78 million pupils had no access to a laptop, or had to share with siblings or parents working from home, clearly impacting their learning opportunities. This is a distinct example of how social mobility is strongly linked to equality of opportunity and why tackling social mobility is essential to guarantee a fairer society where talent and hard work determine how far people can go in life.


One of the first aspects to focus on to put an end to the inequality of opportunities is education. As expected, areas with better education outcomes develop more skilled individuals, and become more attractive to investment. For areas with lower education outcomes, the opposite is the case – trapping them in a low skills cycle.

In 2017, the Department for Education developed a Plan for improving social mobility through education, based on four ambitions(ii). These focus on improving the education system to ensure that people from all backgrounds have the right knowledge about career paths and ensuring that this effort in growing potential doesn’t stop when they leave school.

Young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less likely to have access to careers advice and guidance; this might be due to a lack of in-school careers provision, or it might be because they do not have the same connections through family or peers that can offer knowledge and advice on of how to access the careers, as those from more advantaged backgrounds. This leads to lower career outcomes and decreased social mobility.


Crucial for students from less advantaged backgrounds is the access to work experience opportunities offered by employers to raise their awareness of industries and roles they may not otherwise have heard of. Reaching out to young people before they enter the workforce can have a big impact in tackling social mobility as it paves their way to more career options and equips them with the experience they need to apply for them.

At the same time, the benefits of attracting a diverse workforce for employers range from better decision making, more creative ideas, marketing expansion, improved employee performance and more. Moreover, engaging current employees in work experience events can be seen as a great growth opportunity and can lead to a more engaged workforce.

Companies like Uptree(iii) support employers in engaging with diverse young people from across the UK. We work directly with schools, which means we can target specific groups of young talent more effectively. We can help employers meet students face-to-face, build a talent pipeline for the future, and become an employer of choice amongst young people.

Attracting a more diverse pool is only the first step. It is essential for organisations to make sure that their recruitment process is as inclusive as possible. Some actions that can be put into place include:

  • Making sure the application process is clear and it outlines what the company is looking for.
  • Diversifying the interviewing panel. This helps remove unconscious bias and helps candidates identify with your employees.
  • Where possible removing academic requirements and being open to those without degrees.
  • Recognising the cost-of-living crisis- offer paid internships or consider financial support measures such as travel reimbursement.
  • Making the most of remote working by opening positions to those from less developed areas.

Data is another powerful tool. Collecting information from your current employees about their socioeconomic background and how they are progressing within the company can help you better understand your organisation. This data can reflect how efficient your policies are and where you can implement them. You can also compare your findings with other companies on the Social Mobility Employer Index(iv).


(i) https://bit.ly/3wctvI2

(ii) https://bit.ly/3JAyKEC

(iii) https://uptree.co/employers/

(iv) www.socialmobility.org.uk/employerindex

About Sarah OBeirne

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