This section from the Telegraph, written by Terry Leahy:
When I was growing up, I was taught that if you worked hard enough you could achieve anything you wanted, regardless of the advantages other people might have. It is an attitude that took me from a Liverpool council estate to being chief executive of Tesco for 14 years. It took a number of my peers from similar backgrounds to leading positions in their own fields – David Potts of Morrisons, for example, Andy Harrison of Whitbread and David Morley of Allen & Overy. So this week’s report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is very concerning to read as it suggests that sort of journey is much harder now. We are by now familiar with the statistics on our elite professions; across the 28 areas of public life the Commission looked at in 2014, an average of 38 per cent of those working at the top were educated at private schools. In the senior judiciary this rises to 71 per cent, despite only 7 per cent of children being educated privately. What is perhaps less well understood is why, and that is the focus of this report. Taking a deep dive into law and financial services, the authors find bright children from less advantaged backgrounds are being prevented from entering these professions, albeit unintentionally.
Top firms recruit from a narrow range of universities, which also happen to have the lowest proportions of youngsters from lower socio-economic groups. These businesses believe this is where the best people can be found, and they have coaching systems in place to help students navigate their recruitment processes. But they use criteria “associated with middle-class status” to target talent, which compounds the problem. As one recruiter said: “I’m very interested in people who’ve gone travelling.” The only travelling I did was from Liverpool to London to get a job stacking shelves! Most surprising, though, is that many professionals recognise what is happening but don’t think it’s “a commercial priority” to change it. They feel that to do so would be “expensive, difficult and high risk”. Indeed, one respondent, when considering targeting a wider pool of universities, asked rhetorically: “How much mud do I have to sift through in that population to find that diamond?”
For the record I’ve never met Terry Leahy and to be fair have nothing against him personally although he did run Tesco for many years, a company that I don’t have a lot of respect for (but that’s not for this discussion.) I do think he makes some very valid points. These days having a degree is not such a “big deal” as it was when I joined the workforce, few of my friends went down that path and I didn’t know that many people degree educated people other than some of my family members. These days a degree is much more common not because, in my opinion, it is “easier to get one” than it used to be, we’re simply more aware of needing one in order to get a “good job.” The next step of course was “you need a degree from one of the better universities”, which in general terms means the “Russell Group” of Universities.
Modern recruitment for the “good jobs” is frankly these days a nightmare. A typical recruiter or human resources manager could get 200 applicants for the same job. So they use arbitrary criteria to “sift” through the pile of curriculum vitae, and not having a degree your CV goes in the trash. Still too many CVs after trashing the “non degree” applicants? Yes, you guessed it, pick the ones from the “best” universities. Frankly this disgusts me and I’m going to tell you something that happened to me many years back after completing a degree with the Open University. I applied for a graduate entry position at British Airways, who went on to tell me they didn’t accept applicants with Open University degrees but they could consider me if I had “extra qualifications such as a Masters degree or PhD.” Not surprisingly I told them “if I had a Masters degree or PhD I wouldn’t be applying for a job at bloody British Airways”, cheeky sods.
But the point is we should take “risks”, not all the time sure, but if we don’t offer opportunity to people outside of a narrow arbitrary criteria and/or scrap that petty criteria altogether all we are doing is creating social divide and building up trouble for the future. So Terry Leahy is right, we should have a “work hard and you will succeed” culture. Sadly this is not so in the United Kingdom. It’s not just about degrees though, anything “unconventional” about you, a different schooling, being a mature student, coming from an ethnic background or whatever, these are all reasons people are discriminated against. It’s no wonder we have a so called “benefits culture”, whose going to strive for something they can never achieve?
As for “sifting the mud to find the diamond” if you want to find the diamond you have to sift ALL the mud, not just the mud you like the look of, the diamond may well be in the mud you “chucked away.” As for the “glass ceiling” some job seekers can’t even get on the first “glass rung.”