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Are we missing the real driver of social mobility?

Are we missing the real driver of social mobility?

By Katie Gabriel

As someone who attended a state school in the Midlands, it became clear from a relatively early age that landing a decent job would be challenging.  My school didn’t have a roster of high-flying alumni who would come back in and chat to us about their careers, or endless work experience opportunities with exciting businesses that provided invaluable contacts and experience.

The limited work experience that was available was with companies in our local area and usually leveraged through parental connections. We simply weren’t able to explore the variety of industries out there, despite reaching the point in life when you’re expected to make up your mind about your future. At that point I certainly didn’t know communications was a ‘thing’!

Unfortunately, that is the reality for most students in state education who cannot rely on prestigious alumni networks or high-quality work experience to give them a leg up.  It is this lack of networks and the opportunities they provide, that, for me, represent the biggest barrier to social mobility in the UK.  Which is why working with Speakers for Schools this year has been so enthralling and rewarding.  I can relate entirely to their mission and their vision is urgently needed if ‘levelling up’ is to take place and real social mobility achieved.

For those who aren’t familiar, Speakers for Schools is a social mobility charity founded by ITV Political Editor Robert Peston and funded by Andrew Law. It works with state schools across the UK and leading employers like Spotify, BP and British Airways to give work experience to young people, along with inspirational talks from influential speakers, including politicians, FTSE-100 CEOs and even celebrities (hence the name).

Last month, the team at Instinctif Partners helped Speakers for Schools launch a national partnership with the official careers agency in Wales, giving EVERY state school student access to its work experience programmes. The story was covered by BBC Wales across all channels (online, TV and radio), and has so far allowed students like 17-year-old Caitlin to work with Bentley Motors, inspiring her to aim for a career in engineering. Truly game changing stuff.

But how can these opportunities be rolled out nationally?  Well as the world of work has moved online, so has the world of work experience. Speakers for Schools adapted its services at the start of lockdown to provide virtual work placements. So far it has facilitated over 60,000, despite the pandemic’s drain in career opportunities. It is transformational for young people who are at an age where they need to start building their networks, developing their confidence and ultimately PR-ing themselves as they look to pursue further studies, an apprenticeship or find a job. Particularly those living in remote or disadvantaged parts of the UK where great businesses aren’t on their doorstep.

If you are a company who is serious about social mobility, I ask you to consider offering virtual work experience. It doesn’t need to be a week-long programme to influence a young persons’ life. Hosting it online means you can speak to a broad spectrum of students based across the UK and facilitate more people than if it were hosted in person.

If I had access to Speakers for Schools, it would have saved the endless LinkedIn messages to random comms professionals asking for their advice on my CV or attending careers talks at university just to hound the speaker at the end for potential work experience. All good practice which eventually launched my network, but wouldn’t it be better if all young people could start from an even playing field?

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