Firms are reaching out to working-class candidates – but not recruiting or keeping them, report finds

Research laments significant annual drop in employers taking action on hiring people with lower socioeconomic backgrounds

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Only a third (35 per cent) of companies took action to recruit and retain workers with less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds (LSEB) this year, according to a report by charity Making the Leap – down from 53 per cent last year.

While the report, which analysed the 125 entrants to the UK Social Mobility Awards 2023, praised employers’ outreach work to diverse candidates in 2022-23, it said organisations were “less likely to report activities to recruit and retain LSEB individuals”.

According to the research, the majority (87 per cent) of UK employers and educators attempted to increase socioeconomic diversity in the last year by actively reaching out to people with LSEBs. 

However, half (52 per cent) took action on actually recruiting people with these backgrounds – a notable reduction from 75 per cent in 2022, the Reaching potential? Advancing Social Mobility in 2022-23 report found.

Tunde Banjoko, founder of the UK Social Mobility Awards, said: “The annual Advancing Social Mobility research report clearly shows that there is still further to go before social mobility is a reality in the UK.

“The research shows employers are making progress in some areas, but more action needs to be taken to give people with LSEBs the opportunity to succeed.”

Additional research by The Social Mobility Foundation found that professionals with working-class backgrounds earned nearly £6,000 – or 12 per cent – less per year than those with other backgrounds in the same jobs.

According to The Social Mobility Foundation, 17 November was Class Pay Gap Day, when people with lower socioeconomic backgrounds effectively work for free for the rest of the year. 

“Too many of Britain’s workplaces share a shameful secret,” said Alan Milburn, chair of the foundation. He urged the government to mandate reporting on the class pay gap, adding: “It cannot be right that professionals with working-class backgrounds are paid significantly less than their peers in the same occupation.”

Banjoko added that for firms to recruit and retain people with less advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, businesses needed to actively seek out talent through outreach work in schools and universities. 

However, outreach programmes needed to be “backed up” by offering a wider range of pathways to permanent employment, such as social mobility apprenticeships, paid internships and paid work placements. "Once this talent has entered the workplace, HR professionals play an important role in developing inclusive cultures and equitable outcomes to ensure they retain key talent,” he said. 

“Prioritising financial security by paying real living wage as a minimum, ensuring job stability through the contracts and hours offered and offering transparent, fair pathways for career progression all help to foster an environment where people can actually experience social mobility."

Gemma Bullivant, HR coach and consultant, said HR plays a “pivotal role” in addressing social mobility in the workplace, and that a “cultural shift is needed” to execute recruitment and retention strategies.

On top of outreach programmes, “implementing blind recruitment practices can also mitigate unconscious biases, ensuring that candidates are evaluated based on skills and potential rather than socioeconomic background”, she said. 

Sue Husband, community impact director at Business in the Community, added that employers must shift their focus from education and qualifications to skills if they want to have greater levels of social diversity: "It is essential that employers break down long-standing barriers to work that impact people from all walks of life.

“Employers can take some really simple steps to address this, such as recruiting based on skills rather than qualifications. This will enable employers to access a wider talent pool that might otherwise go overlooked.

“Building relationships with communities through initiatives like school partnerships is also essential for building all young people's understanding and experience of workplaces, which can be vital when they're trying to enter the world of work."