Connecting the Unconnected

One of the sessions from The BITC Hub@Responsible Business Week, Connecting the Unconnected took a closer look at some of the practical steps that big professional firms have taken to change their approach to young people’s engagement and recruitment in order to break down some of the barriers disadvantaged young people face when entering their workplaces. We heard how they were helping break down barriers to social mobility and how some of the remaining challenges might be tackled.


Young people are increasingly becoming polarised into those who succeed at school and beyond, and those who do not because of their social background. This is not only unfair, it is also a waste of potential and talent. It is increasing the pressure on businesses struggling to recruit young people with the right skills and attributes and also impacting on the country’s economic recovery and growth. Over the last year we have seen headlines about big professional firms changing their approach to young people’s engagement and recruitment in order to break down some of the barriers disadvantaged young people are facing to enter their workplace.


The session aimed to help delegates understand the practical actions that employers can take in order to connect the unconnected; and also how remaining barriers can be tackled. Attendees had the opportunity to hear from:

  • Chair: Lewis Iwu, Director, Fair Education Alliance

  • Sandy Begbie, Chief People Officer, Standard Life plc

  • Dan Richards Recruiting, Leader, EY UK & Ireland

  • Grace Mehanna, Director, Business in the Community

  • Jack Feintuck, Head of Youth Policy, Social Mobility and Child poverty Commission

Workshop Notes:

The session began with an overview of the state of the nation update from Jack Feintuck on social mobility and the UK. Key points from this session included:

  • Whilst there has been great progress made in terms of employment figures and educational attainment it remains the case that a young person’s postcode plays a role in their success at school and beyond.

  • This gap in attainment begins in early years with clear divides across the UK – London is faring better for example than the NE in early years development. Once begun it is difficult to then close the gap and so this continues into the school system.

  • Business has a vital role to play in enabling social mobility and efforts are being made to ensure that this is embedded across the business, not just seen as an add on or one off community outreach activity. There are three things that businesses can and are doing that helps to ensure that social mobility is realised;

  • Collect information about employees so that you can measure outcomes and ultimately improve decisions around recruitment and talent management

  • Assess recruit processes to ensure they are fair and do not present a barrier to entry – for example the cost of travel and requirement of previous work experience are often cited as a key barriers young people face in recruitment.

  • Embed yourself within your communities and get to know the local schools so that you can tailor your support to their needs and therefore provide a better experience for the young person.

The panel members were then invited to share their experiences and ideas as to what the role of business is on this agenda. Points raised included:

  • Employers need to ensure that they look across their organisation to understand how they ‘inspire, hire and grow’ young people. Business in the Community, backed by the City & Guilds group have created the youth employment framework which supports companies to do just this.

  • Creating a recruitment process that provides the same opportunities regardless of background is pivotal. For Standard Life this has meant using blind recruitment on application forms, implementing the living wage for all employees, regardless of their age, and creating meaningful jobs as well as working in and with schools to support young people with the employability skills they need to be successful.

  • EY have removed UCAS points from their recruitment process and focus much more on skills and competency based recruitment. This has had a direct benefit to their business as it provides them with a much more diverse workforce which is more attractive to their client base. 180 young people who would have failed to meet the academic filter passed with the changes made to the recruitment processes.

  • Young people are also helping to change the system as they increasingly want to work for employers who demonstrate they are diverse and inclusive. To become or remain an employer of choice employers must meet this challenge especially in the digital age where young people are sharing their experiences globally through social media. Standard Life found that when students who had participated in their work experience programme talked about their positive experience on social media this really raised awareness of the opportunity available.

  • The challenge of gaining support for this approach within organisations and across employees who are recruiters remains. Tools to tackle this include finding a senior advocate who takes the lead in promoting it across the organisation; highlight the commercial benefits such as winning new clients; there is also an opportunity with the new apprenticeship levy to have a conversation about the need to change the approach and ensure it is fit for purpose. Having internal role models who have come into the business through what would be considered a non-traditional route has been found particularly effective. Speakers encouraged not to be put off by initial consultations taking long or teething issues at the start of running programmes. Their business had to go through this to get to where they are now.

  • There remain systemic challenges around perceptions of apprenticeships versus an academic university route. There needs to be more done to encourage young people, parents and teachers to understand that an apprenticeship can lead to a degree and is a viable alternative option to university. There was acknowledgement that offering more high level apprenticeships and more consistency in quality will also help change perceptions and increase uptake.

  • Accessible recruitment practices are key to ensuring that all young people are included.Standard Life have successfully used ‘gamefication’ to open up their recruitment processes and provide an access route for those young people who would of traditionally been filtered out. This is paying dividends as the enablement and engagement scores for their under 25 employees is significantly higher than for other employees – directly impacting the cost of recruitment as turnover has reduced.

  • There was a call across the panel that there needs to be a better system of advice and guidance within schools for young people. It is a complex landscape and without anyone to support and advice on how you can access opportunities it is a difficult journey. EY shared the programmes that run through their Foundation, Smart Futures and Our Future – providing young people with the opportunity to gain work experience, access mentors and get support for their career decisions.

  • There was recognition that there are currently too many initiatives trying to tackle the same issue and that resources are not maximised. More collaboration within and across sectors will help avoid duplication and maximise impact.

  • Setting up mentoring relationships and networks helps young people from diverse backgrounds integrate and grow within your business.

For more information on how you can embed social mobility into your organisations DNA read the blog from Standard Life:

For those of you who are looking for support and advice as to where your youth employment strategy is working well, and the practical steps you can take to improve it, we would encourage you to complete the Youth Employment Assessment Tool. It only takes 15minutes and will give you a good overview of where you can take action as well as providing suggestions of practical action you can take. To access the tool please visit: