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Social Mobility and the City

by internationalbanker

Peta CubberleyBy Peta Cubberley, Policy & Public Affairs Adviser, the Brokerage Citylink





Social mobility in the UK  

Not one of us is able to choose where we are born, how wealthy our parents are or what street we grow up on. How, then, are these fair determinants of educational outcomes and, as a consequence, professional opportunities and life chances? At the Brokerage Citylink, we share the vision that no child’s professional success should be limited by their socio-economic background.

Today, in the UK, the link between income and attainment is stronger than almost any other country in the world. The odds against a state-educated child who is eligible for free school meals being admitted into Oxbridge are 2000-1, while for a privately educated child these odds are 20-1. 

There are so many public policy issues to address when tackling social mobility, and there is no single silver bullet to solve them all. However, our strapline “Raising aspirations; creating diversity; providing opportunity” encompasses what we do to enable young people to reach their potential.

Why is social mobility important?

Last year, the independent Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a report highlighting just how socially elite many of Britain’s professions are, with 75 percent of senior judges, 59 percent of the cabinet, 50 percent of diplomats, 38 percent of the House of Lords, 33 percent of the shadow cabinet and 24 percent of MPs holding Oxbridge degrees, while only 1 percent of the population are Oxbridge graduates.

In January 2014, a report by Boston Consulting Group for Sutton Trust, a social mobility organisation in London, showed that 37 percent of the intake to the entire financial-services sector went to independent schools. Considering that only 7 percent of the school population attend independent schools—i.e., 93 percent of school children do not—this is a poor reflection on access and opportunity for the majority. The research also found that graduates from the elite universities dominate the sector, with almost 70 percent coming from one of the top 30 universities and 40 percent of those coming from the top eight.

Nobody is suggesting that the most talented people in the country should not hold the most senior and responsible positions in society. The question is, what more can be done to spread the net more widely to identify and develop talent outside the places where it has traditionally been sourced—selective or independent schools and Russell Group universities? Without more focus on giving a leg-up to those who do not have it from family, connected friends or fee-paying schools, the upper echelons of our society will never equally reflect our diverse and multicultural communities, especially those in London.

Who we are

BCL Nomura (20)

The Brokerage Citylink is an independent charity working with state school students in some of the most underprivileged boroughs in London, and our work with these young people enables many to access high-quality employment opportunities in professional and financial services. 

The City of London is one of the world’s biggest and richest financial centres, and young people from London have some of the best and most exciting career opportunities available on their doorsteps, but relatively few of them have the knowledge, guidance and support to help them access these roles.

The UK’s financial-services sector is special because of what it contributes to the UK’s national economy. In 2012, it represented 9.1 percent of the total UK economy and provided 1.1 million jobs.

London, too, is special. Some of London’s boroughs are the poorest and most ethnically diverse in the country. Two of the “City fringe” boroughs where we provide support, Islington and Tower Hamlets, have the highest levels of free school meals in the country, an official measure of deprivation.[i] According to Department for Education figures for 2012, nearly half of secondary-school students in inner London, 48.9 percent, did not have English as a first language, and 81 percent were non-white British. As one of our programme alumni recently commented, “Being on free school meals and getting into a Russell Group university makes me a statistical outlier. Fact.”

At the same time, with some of the highest paid jobs in the country going to those working in the financial sector, the Boston Consulting Group’s report rightly highlights the fact that if young people from lower- and middle-income backgrounds cannot access jobs in financial services, in spite of their ability and talents, they will be cut off from one of the main routes to a high-income career in London.

Workforce diversity within the business and finance sectors is not reflective of the local communities it serves, in terms of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic background. However, diversity is vital, as one of our alumni highlights, “If you have a room full of people who look the same, sound the same, and have come from the same backgrounds, then they’re all going to give the same answers. That won’t make you as competitive as other firms that think and behave differently.”

Our programmes do improve diversity in the workplace—58 percent of our students are female, and 91 percent are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, and 62 percent of this year’s internship candidates have a household income of £25,000 or less.

What we do

Funded by the Worshipful Company of International Bankers and the City Bridge Trust, our schools programmes deliver workshops to more than 6,000 students in more than 100 firms and with hundreds of employee volunteers in the city and Canary Wharf.

The workshops highlight the range and breadth of careers that exist across the city, and the kinds of roles available, from traders, analysts, brokers, lawyers, programmers, accountants, human resources and communications, to receptionists, administrators, facilities and catering staff who are needed to keep the business going. From a young age (10-18), students can begin to imagine a world of work outside their own schools, families and neighbourhoods, and potentially a role for themselves in it.

The government recognises that employer engagement activities are key to keeping students engaged in their education, succeeding in exams and making the right “A” levels and degree choices for their future careers. The mayor of London is developing a career offer for all young people in the capital on the back of research proving links between work experience, engagement with employees and improved educational outcomes and employability rates.

Without support from the companies that allow us to use their meeting rooms and staff time for free, we could not offer the number of workshops we do. We are always keen to develop new relationships with more firms and invite them to contact us if they are interested in getting involved. Host companies benefit, as staff gain valuable skills and fulfilment from their engagement with young people, and our experience shows that it changes attitudes and challenges perceptions and inherent “unconscious bias” about people from different backgrounds.

Many organisations providing meeting rooms and staff time go on to fund bespoke projects with us through their corporate social responsibility teams, including some of the biggest names in banking, such as the Bank of England, UBS, RBC, RBS and Nomura. State Street, Citi and Rabobank, for example, support in-house mentoring programmes that develop their staff while also helping young people to gain key employability skills.

Our mission

Research this summer from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reiterates the evidence that those from independent and selective schools are disproportionately represented in graduate roles at top firms, in part because they have learned through their status and socialisation the characteristics needed to pass the selection process—resilience, strong communication skills, confidence and “polish”.

Few state schools in deprived communities have the resources or staffing to coach even their most gifted and talented students to raise their confidence and polish to that of a student of average ability in a private school. This is where the “glass ceiling” is a barrier to success for bright and able students from poorer backgrounds, even before accounting for their lack of contacts and networks.

This has to change, and it is why the Brokerage Citylink, through our programmes, can provide much needed support, coaching and networking opportunities. Together with more city employers offering internships to talented and motivated young people, we can make a difference.

Since 2000, the Brokerage Citylink has managed the City Business Traineeship programme on behalf of the City of London Corporation. The programme targets high-performing state school pupils from London’s inner boroughs into paid internships lasting up to 12 weeks at firms in the Square Mile. This year, more than 450 young people benefited from the scheme through workshops, career insight days, networking events and targeted guidance (e.g., CV writing, interview and selection centre preparation); 103 young people successfully gained paid summer internships with 25 city firms, including the Bank of England, Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York Mellon and Deutsche Bank. They all participated in a competitive, employer-led recruitment process including formal interviews. Since the scheme started, more than 1,200 young people have been able to benefit from paid internships with more than 100 city companies.

Those registering with us will already have the academic ability to succeed, and a desire to work in business or finance. What they often lack are the “soft” skills needed in a professional workplace and skills including punctuality, presentation, good communication skills and experience of professional behaviour, and this is where our input is vital. With financial and professional services set to create more than 40,000 jobs in the city over the next decade, programmes such as ours are essential in arming young people in London with the skills and experience they need to compete on an equal footing in the jobs market.

We know from tracking past alumni from the City Business Traineeship programme that it is a gateway to employment. More than 50 percent are working in professional and financial services, including law, consulting and management. One of our early candidates, now working in wealth management at the Royal Bank of Canada, recently told us, “I may not have had family connections or the right background to get a job in the city, but fortunately I had the Brokerage Citylink.”

Despite the work our charity has been doing for nearly 20 years, there is still a great deal more to do to level the playing field, and we look forward to building on our success, and the success of our candidates, to deliver more opportunities to more young Londoners in the future.


Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, Elitist Britain?, August 2014
Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, Non-educational barriers to attainment, June 2015
Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission, Downward mobility, opportunity hoarding and the ‘glass floor’, June 2015
Boston Consulting Group research for the Sutton Trust, Pathways to Banking: improving access for students from non-privileged backgrounds, January 2014
Department for Education, 2012
The Brokerage Citylink Alumni Yearbook 2015, Future success through diversity
London Ambitions: Shaping a successful career offer for all young Londoners, June 2015


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