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An employer perspective on social mobility: why we need to work together to give everyone a chance

It is a sad truth that the economic and social position of a student's family has the greatest impact on their access to university and their success while they are there. This finding from Universities UK's Social Mobility Advisory Group reiterates how far we have to go to ensure that everyone gets an equal opportunity when it comes to education.

As a large employer, PwC recruits around 1,500 graduates and school leavers a year. We want to reach the best talent regardless of race, background, where they live or even their chosen educational path.

But in order to do that we need to make ensure that every point of the education and employment cycle is fair, open to all and free from bias.

No one school, university or employer can do this alone and it is vital that we work together on this. It is important that the Employers' Forum, which I chaired as part of the evidence gathering for Social Mobility Advisory Group's report, continues. But we need to ensure that this is not just a talking shop, but a forum where we can come together to make more of an impact, particularly with hard-to-reach groups.

PwC gives practical support

We know that practical actions from employers can make a big difference. For example, in 2015, at PwC we removed UCAS points as entry criteria for the majority of our graduate jobs in a move that we hoped could lead the way in driving changes in the social mobility and diversity of the professional services industry, and companies more broadly.

We've seen immediate results in the numbers of applicants from more diverse backgrounds: for example, applicants from households eligible for income support has increased from 9% to 11%.

We are particularly pleased with the diversity of our higher apprentice programme and we are now actively considering other alternative routes to the profession, including degree apprenticeships, to increase options for a diverse applicant pool.

But the number of applicants is just one point in the whole education to employment cycle. We know we need to increase the numbers of students from different backgrounds who apply to us and also to ensure that those who join us have a good experience of working with us. Broader careers outreach to a wider range of schools and universities is key to increasing awareness and aspiration. With this in mind we have merged our community volunteering and schools recruitment teams to pilot a 'back to school' campaign across 10 offices throughout the UK. We are hoping to reach 250­-­300 schools with careers outreach visits.

Focusing on the evidence

The focus of the Advisory Group on evidence has really helped me in my thinking. While it has been impressive to learn about how universities engage in widening access and supporting disadvantaged groups, it has also been depressing to see the all data that shows how certain groups seem to be disadvantaged at each point of the education and employment cycle.

I now have some good ideas about how to support applicants when they join us. But most importantly, my experience on the Social Mobility Advisory Group has reinforced my commitment to the idea that this is an important societal problem that we all have a part to play in addressing. 

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