17 January 2017


The UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility The class ceiling: Increasing access to the leading professions report calls for a ban on unpaid internships in the professions and changes to recruitment in higher education.

The Group comments
it is clear that there is more to be done to widen access to the top professions in our country. Research shows that the UK’s top professions remain disproportionally occupied by alumni of private schools and Oxbridge.
While some positive steps have been taken, the overarching evidence from the inquiry and available statistics still show that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less successful than their more advantaged counterparts in getting in to the top professions. In business, nearly a third of the FSTE 100 chief executives educated in the UK were independently educated, and in law, nearly three quarters of the top judiciary were educated at independent schools. Yet across the country, only 7% of students attend private schools.
This pattern is mirrored, to varying degrees, in a number of different professions such as medicine, journalism and politics and the civil service. One of the most striking findings from the evidence sessions held by the inquiry was that despite the vast range of professions we spoke to, the challenges they faced in widening access were extremely similar. Many spoke of needing to tackle unconscious bias, the lack of contextual recruitment practices, and the fact that for some employers, they just did not receive applications from highly able applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The last point exemplifies how it is not only a formal education which makes a difference to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, but also an informal education such as the learning of soft skills, along with having aspirations and role models to admire and emulate. Employers look for confidence, resilience, social skills and self-motivation in their employees, but for those who have had little to no exposure to extracurricular activities, work experience or mentoring, these skills can be difficult to acquire. A clear message from our evidence sessions was that we need to become better at inspiring our youngsters to reach their full potential, especially for those who start out at a disadvantage. Our professions should reflect our communities and our country, and employers themselves would ultimately benefit from harnessing the broader experience and potential of the country as a whole and not just established groups.
This business case for diversity was put forward by many who responded to this inquiry. By widening access to the professions, organisations benefit from an increased pool of skills and experience. Having a diverse workforce which encompasses many different talents, backgrounds and experiences can help create a dynamic organisation ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century. Businesses need to be measuring and monitoring the social background of their employees in the same way in which they monitor protected characteristics, and held accountable for how well they are doing in widening access.
The report states
Leading People 2016 found that almost a third of MPs in the 2015 intake were independently educated, as are nearly a third of those FTSE 100 chief executives that were educated in the UK. Of all High Court and Appeals Court judges, nearly three quarters attended private schools, as did over half of the top 100 news journalists and over two-thirds of British Oscar winners. This pattern is repeated, to varying degrees, across a host of other professions.
It is not only the very top jobs where an advantage to the privately educated exists. Research by the Bridge Group recently noted that “73% of those who came from the most advantaged backgrounds before Higher Education were in the most advantaged occupation groups six months after graduating in 2012/13. 67% of those from less advantaged backgrounds were in the most advantaged occupation groups”, a gap of 6 percentage points.
This is reinforced by research the Sutton Trust published in partnership with upReach in 2015, which found that, three and a half years after graduation, private school graduates in top jobs earn £4,500 more than their state school counterparts. While half of this pay difference can be explained by the type of higher education institution attended or prior academic achievement, the other half cannot be explained by educational factors.
Over recent years, we have seen a greater focus on diversity in the professions, with an improvement in the number of women appointed to boards at FTSE 100 companies, for example. The Coalition Government set up a Social Mobility Business Compact to encourage employers to be more open to people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Recently the Civil Service announced it was reforming its recruitment process to encourage diversity, while many major companies have changed their admissions process and have set up programmes aiming to widen access.
The Group offers  Recommendations to improve access to the professions
A strategic approach to social mobility should be developed
The issues preventing fair access to the leading professions require cross-sector leadership and real collaboration to solve. The government should develop a national social mobility strategy, linking the work of schools, universities and employers to build a real business case and practical plan for improving social mobility. In doing so, the government should identify champions and model initiatives in each of the most selective professions that can collaborate and share cross sector best practices, setting goals for each sector to meet.
Employers in ‘elite’ professions should take part in the Social Mobility Employer Index, being launched next year by the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission.
Organisations should be required to report on all measures of the index to highlight how well they are doing in widening access. Once piloted, this should be rolled out to all organisations over a certain size and the index should be considered by companies as akin to diversity tracking and other protected characteristics. Employers should learn from what works in their own profession and from other sectors.
Financial barriers to accessing the professions should be minimised
There are significant barriers to accessing professions, particularly the most competitive and those that are mostly concentrated in London. The government should ban unpaid internships.
Employers need to review their work experience policies to ensure access is fair and transparent, ensuring that all posts are publicly advertised to allow a more diverse range of candidates to apply. After at most one month, interns should be paid the National (or London) Living Wage.
Employers should increase efforts to reduce the London-centric focus of recruitment, either by increasing regional recruitment or outreach, and at least fully cover travel reimbursement for any interviews or work experience placements. The Social Mobility Commission should continue to focus on social mobility by geography – to encourage the government and employers to create and support routes for social mobility in those areas that need it most.

Recruitment practices should be fair and transparent

Employers should ensure that they are doing more to encourage best practice with regards to widening access and are helping to break down the barriers graduates face when transitioning from higher education into employment.
Employers should adopt contextual recruitment practices that place attainment and successes achieved in the context of disadvantage, including underperforming schools and less advantaged neighbourhoods.
Employers should ensure that all internships are advertised publicly, and recruited based on merit and not on networks. They should also ensure that any work experience opportunities are advertised publicly, following best practice. Employers should be conscious of the impact of recruiting from a narrow pool of universities in the graduate ‘milk round’, and the social mix of institutions, building on the work already being done in some elite professions. Unconscious bias training for recruiters should also be considered.
UCAS and universities should consider how to modify the application system to allow for more post-qualification applications than are allowed by the current clearing system.
Careers advice for young people needs to be significantly improved
Good careers advice can be transformative for young people. It should be based on “what works”, so that young people know all the options available to them and what they would need to do to achieve them. Schools should learn from best practice on how to support pupils’ choices, and use their own destinations data to help inform their support. Employers should commit to offering careers support and partnerships that genuinely enhance social mobility. This could be by providing mentors and creating opportunities to raise awareness and aspirations of their professions.
Universities should ensure careers services are a core part of the university support system and, in particular, target proven interventions at disadvantaged students to improve their awareness of career opportunities.
The Government should do more to encourage education in later life and lifelong learning so that people of all ages have access to education throughout their lives. They can do this through encouraging more people to take up postgraduate/ part time study loans and by advocating the benefits of education in later life.
Aspirations, soft skills and extra-curricular activities
Schools should encourage pupils to develop skills beyond their core curriculum that are keenly sought after by employers, such as resilience, confidence, social skills and self-motivation. Employers should pro-actively work with schools and universities to help teach the skills that are most sought after in the workplace.
Schools should actively identify young people who could most benefit from mentoring support from charities and employers.
Schools should also raise aspirations by encouraging reading for pleasure, provide educational trips and ensure that they are offering out-of-school studying opportunities, sport and arts provision for disadvantaged students at all stages of education.
Schools should also encourage pupils to take up volunteering or get involved in social action to help build the skills that universities and employers identify as attractive.
It goes on to make Sector-specific recommendations
Throughout this enquiry, evidence was received from several professional sectors. Some specific recommendations for these sectors are below but should be considered in all sectors, where applicable.
Politics and the civil service
Political parties should actively use contextual information when recruiting employees and always pay interns the living wage. This could set an example to other professions and encourage people from non-traditional backgrounds to get more involved in politics. The socio-economic background information of staff should be monitored and reviewed on an anonymous basis.
MPs and Lords should support the Speakers Parliamentary Scheme to expand wherever possible. MPs should look to draw up shortlists for applications where 50% of candidates are from the local area. This would help to combat issues around networking and would allow the makeup of the MPs staff to reflect that of the local population. The Civil Service should ensure that all departments collaborate to ensure that the image of working in the Civil Service is more open and not intimidating. The Civil Service should look specifically at progression, performance, and pay, to lead by example for other professions. The same rigour on social mobility should be applied to the rest of the civil service recruitment as is currently applied to the Fast Stream.
Universities should contextualise admissions to study medicine, recognising that academic ability is just one crucial part of being a successful doctor. This should build on innovative schemes, such as the ‘foundation year’ schemes already underway at some medical schools.
Work experience opportunities for school students should be coordinated to ensure all students, regardless of where they live and their personal networks, can get that crucial experience. An effort should be made to encourage pupils to take an interest in medicine earlier on in their academic lives. This could be done in part, by schools and medical colleges working together in order to expose pupils to the possibilities of studying medicine.
Law, finance and professional services
Established professional bodies should drivehe social mobility agenda in law, finance and accountancy. Where possible, initiatives to improve social mobility should be coordinated to ensure they can have significant impact, where it is most needed. Employers should ban all unpaid internships and need to review their work experience policies to ensure access is fair and transparent.
All firms should undertake awareness-raising activities to ensure that young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are aware of the opportunities to join their profession and the requirements.
Arts and media
Building on the success of the BRIT School in London, other schools and colleges should encourage young people to develop their skills in creative pursuits, regardless of background. The business case for having more diverse groups of people, in this case particularly those from different socio-economic backgrounds, needs to be developed in both the arts and the media.
The Government should ban all unpaid internships, as previously stated, and employers need to review their work experience policies to ensure access is fair and transparent, ensuring that all posts are publicly advertised to allow a more diverse range of candidates to apply.
The government should provide proper support and funding for local arts projects, some of which could be done as part of the pupil premium scheme, through which lower income families could purchase additional educational support for pupils, such as theatre visits and other cultural activities
In discussing internships the Group comments
Recruiters often favour experience as much as aptitude, which the disadvantaged have least opportunity to gain
A Highfliers analysis identified that nearly 30% of accounting and professional services vacancies, over 30% of consulting vacancies, over 55% of law vacancies and over 50% of banking and finance vacancies, are filled by graduates who have already worked for the employer. Highfliers found that nearly 80% of vacancies specifically in investment banking were filled by those who had already worked there, compared with less than 10% of roles in the public sector. This suggests that work experience is both crucial for entry into the most elite professions and implies that recruiters are favouring those who have already had experience with their organisation.  The prevalence of unpaid internships has been a widely acknowledged social mobility issue. In 2014, the Sutton Trust found that 31% of university graduates working as interns were doing so for no pay. The Social Mobility Commission found that 63% of cultural and creative, 56% of media-related, and 42% of financial and professional services internships advertised on the Graduate Talent Pool website were unpaid. The Sutton Trust said that the cost of a six month internship in Manchester could set back an intern a minimum of £4,728 (£788 a month), excluding transport costs which are usually paid by the employer.
This inquiry found this trend as being particularly acute in the media. The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCJT) said that the extensive use of internships, the majority unpaid, as a recruitment mechanism adds to the difficulty of entry into journalism for those who cannot rely on family support. In its written submission, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) went further and said that ‘unpaid internships have become almost institutionalised in the media’ and inevitably disadvantaged those who are unable to work for free.
In relation to  Qualification bias the Group notes
Top professions favour Russell Group degrees and/ or post-graduate degrees and so are dominated by most affluent groups One of the most common issues the inquiry heard was the practice of leading professions recruiting from a narrow range of elite universities, mostly in the Russell Group, in which people from disadvantaged backgrounds are underrepresented in (see section 2). The Social Mobility Commission has identified that top employers are far more likely to visit universities with a low proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds to recruit.  For instance, in 2015, the Law Society found that ‘the type of university attended is one of the most important elements to factor into a person’s chance to receive a job offer from top law firms’.
On top of this, prohibitively expensive post-graduate degrees or professional qualifications are also required to enter many leading professions. This is true in medicine, where costs can continue after graduation for further study. The British Medical Journal has estimated that in England, a doctor can graduate with between £64,000 and £82,000 debt. David Morley from Allen and Overy told the inquiry non-law graduates require two years of law school and his firm provides considerable financial assistance to trainee recruits (eg paying law school fees) including a relatively small number of bursaries to support some students from less advantaged backgrounds with the costs of going to university.
The Law Society estimates that it costs £25,000-£50,000 to qualify as a solicitor,  while the President of the Bar Council said that qualifying as a Barrister may cost up to £127,000. 51 In the media, the NCTJ said there is a requirement for many new journalists to have postgraduate degrees, which are often self-financed, meaning young people frequently need financial support to enter. This is supported by a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which found that of those journalists who began their careers in 2013, 2014 and 2015, 98% had a bachelor’s degree and 36% a master’s.
Leadership and confidence traits
Employers want recruits to show leadership qualities, yet people from disadvantaged backgrounds lack leaders in their lives as examples to emulate.
There is an entire literature on ‘leadership in  business’ and there is a widely held assumption that leading employers are looking for ‘natural leaders’ and their assumed associated attributes. The Social Mobility Commission has noted how many firms use ‘competency or strengths based frameworks to seek evidence for skills such as leadership and team work’, or to identify ‘aptitudes such as resilience, drive, enthusiasm and adaptability’.  The inquiry heard how leadership characteristics are often associated with confidence. In its submission, Brightside said that the issue of access into leading professions is linked to confidence as well as the educational attainment gap. Dan Jarvis MP, champion of the Speaker’s Parliamentary Placement Scheme that offers paid internships in Parliament to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, provides its beneficiaries with confidence to interact with senior parliamentarians and policymakers, which is important for their later career.  Archie Brixton said the support he received from upReach built his confidence to commence a career in finance.  The link between confidence and career progress has been quantified by the Sutton Trust in a report that analysed the BBC’s ‘Big Personality Test’ to identify the links between personality traits and career earnings. The report found that highly extroverted people – those who were more confident, sociable or assertive – had a 25% higher chance of being in a high-earning job (over £40,000 per year), with the odds being higher for men than women. The report also found that personality and aspirations were found to be strongly affected by social background, showing that people from more advantaged backgrounds (those whose parents had professional jobs) had significantly higher levels of extroversion and very substantially higher economic aspirations.