Opportunity, the Working Class, and Career Progression

rj-and-shaun-baileyI recently watched a fascinating documentary, “How to Break into the Elite” by Amol Rajan, who described in very compelling and human terms the struggle that the working classes face in breaking into the jobs market, in particular to careers that offer great opportunities. Race had an effect, but more so class. His own mentor, Matthew Wright, himself from a working class background, describes being replaced in a gesture to try to increase visible diversity, but actually he was replaced by an Etonian.

I’m on a communities working group that includes Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London mayor. He is a man who has spent his life mentoring people and young men through his charity work to help them to step away from gang culture, and to overcome obstacles to getting on in life and achieve. One thing I’ve heard him talk about so many times is the issue of class and lack of opportunities. Working class people (in particular boys and men) from all racial backgrounds in particular have the worst chances in terms of opportunity. Shaun is right, and he wants to do something about it in London.

Government has more to do, and I believe it is working hard on the issue. The Social Mobility Commission made a number of recommendations, but I believe there should be more. In the NHS we are implementing the Workforce Race Equality Standard. But this doesn’t capture class unfairness, which as Matthew Wright’s experience tells, can be lost if the monitoring only has a narrow focus, with no monitoring of class or social mobility. What I’d like to see is 1. Large employers should not just monitor fairness in terms of recruitment for BME but also class opportunities; 2. Top tier councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships should be putting in place schemes that encourage job opportunities for people of working class backgrounds, but also a career ladder. More apprenticeships – true apprenticeships with training on the job, is one way of doing this. In too many areas and too many workplaces there is no career progression. In “Broke” one of the characters (a driven person, working hard on being a wrestling champion), was doing the same job as he had been doing decades before, and his relative take home pay had declined. From what they were saying, he appeared to have had had no opportunity for career progression at work. Each region, shire, town and village needs to make the best use of it’s social capital, its potential workforce, and on the job training to get the skills needed for career progression so often seems lacking.

If we are to become the high employment high wage economy that Boris quite rightly wants, then we need to continue to improve our educational opportunities and outcomes – particularly for those working class boys who can be left behind – but also we need to encourage and incentivise the creation of opportunities in the workplace – first to get a job, and then for career progression.