Social Mobility - The supply and demand to the leading professions

Posted by es328 at Mar 23, 2017 03:46 PM |
Martin Perfect, Employer Relationship Manager in the University's Career Development Service, discusses initiatives to advance social mobility

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As the first in my family to go onto University and really struggle to adjust to the challenges of Higher Education, I have been a keen observer of the ever increasing number of Social Mobility and Widening Participation initiatives in the sector.

For those that don’t know me, I am the Employer Relationship Manager in the Careers Service at the University of Leicester. I studied and worked previously at Coventry University and have 18 months experience working for Jaguar Land Rover.

It appears that after a sustained period of talking and awareness raising we are starting to see green shoots of behavioural change in increasing access to the leading professions. The reason that I believe this is because we are now starting to address not only getting more students into Higher Education but also creating increased demand for this talent into leading professions.

Rightly so, up until very recently a huge amount of focus has been on opening and increasing access to Higher Education. Through a variety of funded initiatives it is clear to see more universities launching excellent Widening Participation schemes to give students the experience and opportunities that they deserve.  But what happens once they are at university and start to turn their attention to careers?  I am sure you will all agree that the below stat is one of real concern:

‘Around 88% of The Times’ Top 100 Graduate Employers use assessment centres. Evidence submitted in response to our Call for Evidence suggested that selection criteria often favour groups with higher socio-economic background because the use of online applications, automatic sifting and a focus on extra-curricular activities do not take account of possible social disadvantages.’

Source here

As we all know we will not get transformational change overnight. We have to lay solid foundations and build for the long term. I am delighted to play just a small role so far in the University of Leicester’s Widening Participation programme, Leicester OnTrack. The programme that is in its infancy currently will increasingly play a significant role in supporting extremely capable people who just need that extra support, knowledge and awareness to truly fulfil their undoubted potential. The OnTrack programme has been established initially to support 348 current 1st year students throughout their Higher Education journey and into their desired destination. The programme aims to foster social and cultural capital, institutional integration; and provide access to financial support to enable travel to work experience and professional development opportunities; the need for these has been constantly highlighted in a number of recent reports by Alan Milburn. This will be delivered through a number of confidence building and developmental initiatives, some lead by our key employer partners. This will create a new network and community to nurture what I am sure will be our business leaders of the future.

I attended an event a couple of weeks ago and a huge global recruiter (who will remain nameless) spoke about the importance of diversity and the need to attract students from all social backgrounds. They stated that they really welcomed applications from all backgrounds as long they met the 340 point UCAS criteria that the business had set!! Though I am sympathetic to employers in certain sectors, surely we need to be taking a more holistic view on an individual’s competency to perform a specific job role than their academic performance from 4 or 5 years previous.

I think we are however getting much clearer messages about not only the need for change but how to go about this. I read an excellent report that highlights some very clear recommendations to both employers and universities that has been inspired by almost two decades of work by The Sutton Trust charity. The full report can be found here

Three key points from the paper were:

  • 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”, the report says. The inquiry repeatedly heard about leading professions recruiting from a narrow range of elite universities, mostly in the Russell Group, in which people from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-represented;
  • Some of those giving evidence to the inquiry highlighted a lack of “soft skills” valued by employers among some graduates from disadvantaged homes, such as communication, innovation and confidence;
  • The group says the “networking effect” – the fact that young people from professional or better-off homes have access to people who can advise and help them - is one of the most difficult-to-quantify yet pervasive social mobility challenges.

This year at the University of Leicester we are proud to be working in partnership with a wide range of forward thinking and innovative organisations including Enterprise Rent A Car, FDM, EY and BP who are not only talking a good game but are walking the walk on campus to bring about real change in this space. At the end of this month the University of Leicester will once again be sponsoring the advancement of social mobility in graduate recruitment award at the Target Jobs Awards. Enterprise Rent A Car are the current holders!

I was delighted when in early 2017, through the hard work of my team, that the University of Leicester achieved its highest ever position in the Top 25 Most Targeted universities. I was surprised to discover that we are one of just three universities outside of the Russell Group in the Top 25 Most Targeted. I guess the real positive of this was to add another university name to a very short list of socially diverse institutes represented.

One of my big regrets at university was not securing a significant piece of work experience. Not surprisingly, in my current role I’m hugely driven to get students work experience, ideally year-long where appropriate. It doesn’t surprise me one bit to see some excellent articles such as this one here by Edward Peck at NTU demonstrating how sandwich placements unlock social mobility.  I am delighted that The University of Leicester is now one of a handful of previously research focussed universities that is taking significant strides to offer more and more courses with sandwich placements.

Alongside our new OnTrack programme we are also launching a Professional Mentoring Programme. In a similar manner to sandwich placements, we know that providing commercial and sector awareness and building professional networks is something that student’s from a WP background and in fact all students really need, to accelerate their ambitious plans for the future.

If you would like more information or to discuss on our new OnTrack programme, please contact me via email on If you would like to offer your services to mentor a WP student or any student in fact, you can find more details about our Professional Mentoring Programme here.

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