Having a more socially mobile workforce boosts performance and makes companies more agile, senior business leaders have claimed.
During a roundtable discussion held jointly by Barclays and The Yorkshire Post, senior personnel from a range of business sectors shared experiences of their mobility schemes and how it was progressing their enterprises.
Andrew Devonald, senior business development manager with Grant Thornton, said that diversifying the workforce can allow companies to avoid falling into the trap of group think.
“There is a danger with anything related to social mobility that people just view it as a nice thing to do,” he said.
“What we are finding is that this is making our business stronger. There is a business case for social mobility. People perceive it is quite hard to do but you have to take that first step.”
Paul Ayre, managing partner for law firm Gordons, helped launch an apprentice scheme a few years ago which is already delivering qualified personnel into the firm, something he said had “made us much more in tune and aligned with clients”.
“We act for a very entrepreneurial client base who may not have gone to university,” he said.
“So it makes a us a lot more like our clients which is no bad thing.”
The lawyer was also at pains to point out that the scheme was not an “easy ride” but one that offered a great deal of challenge and reward for those who were selected.
One of those to have made it through the scheme is Megan Boldison, who now works as a chartered legal executive at the firm. She said that the awareness of such schemes was improving but it is still too low.
Ms Boldison said: “As a country we are getting better. But it needs to be better, schools need to be better.”
Lynne McLaughlin, head of employment and skills at Aspire Igen, said that the culture surrounding apprenticeships went beyond schools.
She said: “Some schools are really going for it because they see the value of it, but one of the biggest barriers is parents because they still see apprentices as driving white vans.
“When we visit schools and ask for a show of hands, 90 per cent say they want university. But when you get them in a one-to-one situation you find out they have just been guided that way.
“Actually they really want to get out there, they don’t want the debt and they want to start work.
“That can be life-changing.”
Debbie Mullen, head of corporate banking for Barclays, said: “There is also something about loyalty. With graduates the expectation is ‘I will start with one place and then move on within a couple of years’. We find, not always, but more of the apprentices will stay with us and actually a lot of our senior people have started with us as trainees or apprentices.”