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“Elite” UK firms snub qualified working class applicants from top jobs

A battle between Britain's middle class and working class has been discovered, with the former receiving preferential treatment ahead of the latter when it comes to securing top jobs with elite professional services firms based on their "poshness".
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The research from The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is based on the results of interviews with employees from 13 “elite” law, accountancy and financial services firms, which collectively support 45,000 of the UK’s best jobs.

The Commission found that bright working class job applicants are being rebuffed from the opportunities in favour of middle class candidates. Indeed, 70 per cent of job offers in 2014 went to graduates that had been educated at a fee-paying school.

“This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs. Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness test’ to gain entry,” said Alan Milburn, chair of the Commission. “Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.”

He recognised some of the firms that have committed to recruiting candidates based on talent and not their upbringing, however. For example, professional services firm PwC revised its A-level criteria in May to “create a fairer and more modern system” to find talent regardless of whether a student is from a disadvantaged background or not.

Slamming snooty companies, he called it a “wake up and smell the coffee moment” for them to broaden their options.

Milburn continued: “In some top law firms, trainees are more than five times likely to have attended a fee-paying school than the population as a whole. They are denying themselves talent, stymying young people’s social mobility and fuelling the social divide that bedevils Britain.

“It is time for the rest to follow the lead of the best and adopt policies that make access to a top job genuinely meritocratic.”

Read more on education:

There are three key recommendations companies should follow if they want to access a wide talent pool, according to Louise Ashley of Royal Holloway, University of London, research project lead.

She said: “First, amend attraction strategies to encourage higher numbers of applications from students with a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; second, ensure that these diverse students have access to similar levels of support enjoyed by their more traditional peers, in order to navigate the selection process effectively.

“Third, interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed, to ensure that disadvantaged students are not ruled out for reasons of background rather than aptitude and skill.”

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the former deputy editor of Real Business. His areas of interest included media, innovation, technology and the digital sector.

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