I’m Jasmine, I’m halfway through my 20s, I’m a Marketing Executive for Amberjack, and I come from a socially disadvantaged background.
For some reason, this is a little hard to admit. It feels like patting myself on the back for getting to where I am now. Sometimes, I feel like I shouldn’t mention it, like I didn’t have ‘enough’ of a hard time to be able to bring it up, but the truth is that all the things that made me part of that ‘socially disadvantaged’ cohort were difficult, and are also a reason why I think organisations should take Social Mobility seriously.
What does ‘low socio-economic status’ look like?
Social Mobility is the movement of someone’s socio-economic status. An individual’s socio-economic status refers to a combination of their education, income, and occupation. There are a few different indicators of socio-economic status, but the main ones are occupation of parents, educational background, parent’s education level, and eligibility for free school meals (FSM).
Growing up, my socio-economic status was low.
I’ll take you back to my childhood… lucky you! My mother raised me and my 3 full-siblings pretty much single-handedly. During this time, we often relied on family members and friends for snacks to help us keep the cupboards full until the end of the week, or for an extra fiver for the electric. We didn’t get the usual designated financial help from my father, so we relied pretty much entirely on benefits.
I was eligible for free school meals from the time I joined school at 5, until I left 6th Form at 18. At 16, when my sister and I got access to the savings that my mum had put by over the years, there was approximately £500 in there. In 2007, when flash floods hit the UK, the family home became a swimming pool and my parents had to use what savings they had already accumulated for me and my sister to buy new furniture and appliances.
My sister, brothers, and I would crowd around the single laptop, donated by school to the family, and take turns to do homework (or play mini games…).
When my youngest brother went to primary school and my mum started looking for a job, she fell chronically ill and has since become unable to work.
Long story short, there wasn’t a lot of money floating around while I was a child!
But what does a lack of funds mean for someone growing up?
I feel it’s important to caveat here that I’m incredibly proud of my mother for her persistence and raising me and my siblings to be good people. I had a good childhood and have lovely memories. However, there was definitely less access to opportunities.
“Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not.” – Social Mobility Commission
In secondary school, my friends went on school trips to Paris and Normandy, and participated in an expedition to Botswana and Zambia. I desperately wanted to be able to join in and explore the world, to be able to learn about other cultures and immerse myself, but instead, I was one of the few that stayed behind, even the deposit for such trips was too expensive at the time. My first time on a plane was at age 18.
My friends would often reminisce about the clubs they went to as toddlers and growing up, from Ballet to Brownies, they would discuss the stories and memories, while I listened and reflected on the fact that I didn’t attend any (paid-for) clubs until I was 10 years old. If my siblings had wanted to join a club too, it would have been difficult for mum to achieve. A couple of my friends also took additional courses paid for by their family for the subjects they enjoyed.
Think of the things that fueled your interests and progression during your formative years? Did you go to clubs, go on trips, get tutored? Did those things cost your family money? Did they require an able-bodied parent to help with transport? Did your interests require specialist equipment or access to technology?
I feel as if I really started to grow and experience the world once I turned 16, got my first part-time job, and started earning an income (even if it was meagre). I began to explore the world around me and pay for the interests I wanted to pursue.
But my low socio-economic status might look different from somebody else’s low socio-economic status. Different factors have different impacts.
If you had parents who went to a state-run school and left after their GCSEs, they may find it difficult to help with homework or provide educational guidance. If you’re eligible for free school meals, and food is often scarce at home, focusing on schoolwork might be a lot harder, and your family is probably unlikely to be able to afford technology. If you’re raised by a single caregiver and have younger siblings, you may have had to help with childcare, and subsequently had less time for yourself.
Recruitment barriers faced by ‘socially disadvantaged’ candidates
When entering the workforce, there are numerous barriers that low socio-economic individuals may face, and these are exacerbated for Early Careers candidates.
- Accessing job opportunities: being able to find a job requires access and knowledge. Writing CVs, navigating online job boards, travelling to a job centre, and more, are all things that someone of a lower socio-economic background may have difficulty with.
- Confidence: having had less guidance and experience, candidates with a lower socioeconomic background may feel like they are unable to apply for a job because they’re not ‘good enough’ or lack skills.
- Less experience: unpaid opportunities like volunteering and internships are a luxury. Being able to take up unpaid work to develop and experience is an opportunity often not afforded to individuals without savings or support.
- Assessment methods: an organisation’s selection methods can be a huge recruitment barrier. Assessing for past-experience and strengths means you might be restricting your talent pool. It’s important to think about if the ‘required’ skills for your vacancy can be learned on the job; just because an individual hasn’t had the chance to do something, it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be good at it.
- Geographical immobility: candidates from a low socio-economic background might not have the money to travel long distances or move for a job, this can limit them to their local area and the opportunities (or lack of) on offer there. At the 2023 IHR Early Careers Recruitment Conference, we learned from Prospects that 42% of graduates are ‘stayers’ and 26% are ‘returners’; this means that 68% of graduates work in the area where they grew up. I myself am a ‘returner’, after attending university in London, I moved back home once I had graduated, I would not have had the level of money or support necessary to stay in London or go elsewhere.
Providing opportunities and attracting ‘socially disadvantaged’ candidates
Knowing where to start and how to begin is an issue for a lot of organisations. However, not all of the suggestions for increasing Social Mobility in your recruitment processes have to involve huge changes. While some of the below advice may require larger organisational adjustments, some are as simple as adding a small step into your existing practices.
- Assessment and selection: your organisation’s assessment and selection methods are perhaps the largest area of focus. Changing this may be quite the task but it does have a significant impact. Here at Amberjack, we assess for Potential, and our latest Insights data revealed that overall, our clients are seeing a 50% better conversion ratio for candidates declaring Social Mobility flags compared to their counterparts, for both graduates and apprentices. Hiring for Potential is a key way your organisation can increase diverse hires; learn more about our Model for Identifying Potential, by requesting your copy of the Insight Paper.
- Mentoring: the benefits of mentoring your new joiners are numerous. Having someone they can turn to for advice and information, and feel comfortable with, will aid in their growth and confidence. While showing that you support your employees after they join your workforce will be attractive to candidates.
- Coaching calls: here at Amberjack, we offer coaching calls for candidates for our clients looking to recruit. Coaching calls add value and a personal touch to your hiring process, improving candidate experience. They provide support and help iron out any concerns your candidates might have. This can be invaluable to individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, who may have more concerns, helping to put them at ease and ensuring they are confident with the next steps.
- Skills development opportunities: providing your joiners with opportunities to develop their skills is an easy way to help increase their Social Mobility. From providing educational sessions internally to contributing to the cost of a course, helping your employees level up their knowledge helps them, and your business. Who doesn’t want more knowledgeable employees?
- Offer flexible working: while not appropriate for all organisations, allowing your staff to work flexibly or with a hybrid approach, means expanding your talent pool, and allowing lower socio-economic candidates to cast their nets further. If they can’t afford to move for work, then the ability to work from home helps them look further afield than local opportunities. If they have kids or caring responsibilities, then flexible working hours allow them to carry out their responsibilities and find time to work simultaneously.
Why is it important?
Driving Social Mobility forward is critical. Individuals with lower socio-economic status entering the workforce are at a disadvantage. Intervention by organisations can help close the gap.
According to 2022 research by the Office for National Statistics, the percentage of free school meal (FSM) recipients earning above the Living Wage at age 25 is 20% lower than non-FSM recipients; 18.2% of female FSM recipients earned above the Living Wage, 27.8% of male FSM recipients earned above the Living Wage. 29.2% of FSM recipients had no recorded earnings.
Skills development opportunities correlate with education level. Research by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions shows that individuals with a higher education, such as university, have the highest levels of skills development opportunities, while ‘unskilled’ workers have the lowest levels.
Research from the Sutton Trust shows that in Britain, workers in the top-paying jobs are five times more likely to have attended a private school.
Focusing on socio-economic background as a part of D&I strategy can help organisations improve their competitive advantage and performance. For example, research from the Social Mobility Commission shows that employees educated at state schools are 75% more likely to be top performers than those educated at independent schools.
From a wider perspective, socially diverse organisations create well-rounded teams with a greater world understanding. A workforce of varied individuals brings different perspectives and experiences. Organisations with greater diversity also tend to have lower turnover rates and higher engagement.
Now you’ve heard a few of the existing barriers for lower socio-economic candidates, and why it is important to tackle these, we have included some resources that may help your organisation with the first steps to increasing Social Mobility and encouraging socio-economically diverse hires:
- State of the Nation 2022: A fresh approach to social mobility – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Recruiting young people facing disadvantage: an evidence review (cipd.co.uk)
- Recap: Employers Masterclass – Social mobility, hiring and recruitment – Social Mobility Commission (socialmobilityworks.org)
- Socio-economic diversity and inclusion – Employers’ toolkit: Cross-industry edition – July 2021 (socialmobilityworks.org)
- The Strategy for Achieving True Diversity: Diversifying Your Workforce Made Simple (weareamberjack.com)
- Amberjack’s Model for Identifying Potential – Amberjack (weareamberjack.com)
- Social Mobility Workshop Takeaways – Amberjack (weareamberjack.com)