Improving social mobility needs business to play its part

Improving social mobility needs business to play its part

Next year for the first time, Britain’s biggest businesses will be ranked on how much talent they employ from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Thanks to the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission we will be able to see which businesses are inclusive and which are more exclusive.

School leaders and governors have been told for many years about the importance of narrowing the gap and whilst I cautiously welcome the proposed league table because it highlights the issue I am left feeling that naming and shaming will only get us so far. We need socially driven and proactive businesses to play their full part.

Whilst some young people from disadvantaged backgrounds begin their schooling at the bottom rung of the education ladder, many achieve successful careers; there are, however, too many who do not. There are also many young people who start half-way up the education ladder but for whatever reason do not climb as high as their peers.

My view is that businesses have a role to play in helping young people climb the education ladder and assist in improving social mobility; it is a shared responsibility with schools and the young people themselves.

I am very fortunate to be the Director of an academy trust that is sponsored by a large UK business – the Co-op. The sponsorship they offer raises aspirations for the young people and enables them to get a feel for the world of work and what is required. The Co-op’s commitment to the academy programme is long term and as such it enables confidence and resilience to grow. The Co-op doesn’t offer us huge sums of cash but it offers expertise, support, advice, values and so much more for students and staff. The relationship is kept at arms-length with a notable contribution made to strong ethical governance at many levels by senior managers and Directors in the business. Our experience is that effective governance looks similar across many fields whether that is in running a business with a turnover of over £10bn each year and an academy trust with close to £40m.

If we intend addressing social mobility constructively we need to share the responsibility. Working within and for some of the most disadvantaged communities is at the heart of a socially conscious business such as The Co-op. We now need more businesses to step forward and play their part in driving up aspirations and helping more young people to climb the education ladder and improve social mobility. It makes good business sense and is essential if our country is to truly prosper.