A new BCS report says that inspiring, educating and empowering children to launch careers in IT will allow them to enjoy successful lives and provide industry with the skills it needs to prosper.

At Rolls Royce’s Learning and Development Centre in Derby, BCS launched its latest report Moving On Up: A BCS analysis of social mobility in IT. The event saw presentations from delegates including Lee Rowley MP, North East Derbyshire; Maggie Philbin OBE, CEO, TeenTech; John Gibbs, Group CIO, Rolls Royce; and Ash Merchant, Education Director, Fujitsu.

Collectively the speakers applauded the report’s findings and underscored their unanimous belief in IT’s power to foster social mobility by sharing stories about how they have seen technology transform lives.

‘I really welcome this report and welcome the debate that it has created,’ said Lee Rowley MP. ‘The report will help kids, like me from fifteen years ago, get into this industry and flourish.

‘For me, social mobility is a vitally important part of ensuring we have a thriving and successful society. It’s vitally important that industries such as IT get the best and the brightest. As we look beyond leaving the European Union, we need to make sure those industries are prospering and they can attract the very people that’ll enable us to move ahead over the next few decades.’

Before becoming an MP, Rowley enjoyed a successful fifteen-year IT career. Far from achieving that success through privilege and birth, Rowley came from a working class background. He stated: ‘It’s important that we get other kids from ordinary backgrounds into IT so they can fulfil their potential.’

What is social mobility and why is it important?

Social mobility defines the movement of people and families between society’s layers and tiers. At the heart of this open stratification is the idea that achievement, made through hard work and application, is given a value. The opposite would, of course, be a society where birth and inheritance are the royal roads to status and prosperity.

Social mobility isn’t just a theory that exists in books and academic papers. In 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May said: ‘I want Britain to be the world’s greatest meritocracy - a country where everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their talent and their hard work will allow.’

Despite May’s statement, the government report, State of the Nation 2017: Social Mobility in Great Britain, concluded: ‘Britain is a deeply divided nation. Those divisions take many forms; class, income, gender, race.’

From an IT industry perspective, social mobility is important because, like many sectors, technology faces a huge skills gap. There just aren’t enough skilled IT workers to fill all the available jobs. Nor are there enough young children considering a career in IT as desirable, achievable or both. So, in short, inspiring young people - from all sectors of society - is a route to helping IT flourish in future.

Where does education fit into social mobility?

The Royal Society’s report on computer education in UK schools underlines the need for outstanding IT schooling. It argued that IT education is necessary for our future prosperity, as well as individual empowerment. In addition, according to a recent report by the Children’s Commissioner, understanding of algorithms and their impact is necessary ‘to develop children’s critical awareness and resilience’ in a world of social media.

The strategic needs for IT education and for social mobility are different but compatible. As the expansion of IT education undergoes a step-change, and with a renewed focus on social mobility more generally, BCS’s data strongly suggests an opportunity exists.

If every IT educational activity had social mobility interwoven into its approach, and if every social mobility programme understood and leveraged the digital opportunities, both would be more effective, and society as a whole would benefit.

What are the report’s findings?

The report found that the IT profession affords a greater opportunity for social mobility compared with, say, law or medicine. In some professions the children of qualified professionals were more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps into the same sector.

In other areas of commerce, the costs of entry - in the form of expensive degrees and qualifications - are a profound barrier of entry for people from poorer backgrounds.

By comparison, IT is a young profession - it’s only been around for around half a century. There are also many ways to achieve the necessary skills and qualifications, many of which aren’t as expensive as a four-year degree course.

The report found:

  • IT as a profession offers more social mobility than medicine and law.
  • IT offers comparable social mobility to the business and accountancy professions.
  • IT offers more routes to entry and a far lower cost for obtaining qualifications and skills than medicine and law.
  • 75% of those in the IT profession have experienced upward social mobility compared to their parent’s social class.
  • 80% of IT project/programme managers have experienced a higher grading of social mobility than their parents.
  • 18% of IT professionals have experienced ‘long-range social mobility’.
  • IT occupations are associated with the second-highest level of long-range social mobility, being only marginally behind managers and directors in business.

Why is BCS involving itself in social mobility?

Last year BCS commissioned and published the report ‘Diversity in IT 2017: Shaping our future together’. That report painted a somewhat unflattering picture of the IT industry and how, in the main, able-bodied white men occupy most of the jobs.

The report said: ‘In 2016 just over one half (51%) of the population (aged 16 and above) were women, 23% were disabled, 45% were aged 50 and above and 12% were of non-white ethnicity. By comparison, just 17% of IT specialists were female, 8% were disabled, 21% were from older age groups and 17% were from ethnic minorities.’

In summary, the IT industry isn’t representative of the population is serves. Why’s that a problem? Because diverse and multifaceted teams are much better equipped to create products and services that resonate with everyone in society.

Monocultural organisations are, by comparison, hamstrung because they lack rich insights and a wide mix of experiences - the raw stuff that fuels innovation.

BCS believes the IT profession can - and should - help to tackle the divisions in British society.

Find out more by downloading the report

Four key quotes from the Derby launch of Moving on Up

‘For social mobility to become a reality for a new generation, we all have a role to play in making sure that we show young people the many great and new opportunities that are available to them... People have helped you in your career, people have given you opportunities. I think there’s a value and a requirement to put back into society. To repay those advantages. The fact that we’ve all been able to move upwards in our own lives means that we need to provide that opportunity for people that don’t have that privilege right now.'
John Gibbs, Group CIO, Rolls-Royce

‘When I went through my grammar school the idea of being an engineer was never mentioned. I don’t think technology had even been invented according to my school, or it was never discussed. So, the vast majority of opportunities – other than being a vet or a doctor - were totally invisible to me. In 2008, I realised this was still the case for many young people, their teachers, their parents and their schools. That was the thinking behind TeenTech - how do we bring this world alive?’
Maggie Philbin OBE, CEO, TeenTech

‘For companies, it’s important that you build your own platform. Government can do many things but, ultimately, if you want to fix this then you need to find your own pipeline. Go into schools and create the apprenticeships that will bring forward the next generation of people who can ensure that in, five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years you have the IT skills you need to ensure your business moves ahead.’
Lee Rowley, MP, North East Derbyshire

‘My view is you can be a successful company, but the outcome of success is that you think what you did today will be good enough for tomorrow. It won’t be. Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand and we have to develop our young people to take them forward. That’s because we’re in the fourth industrial revolution - the digital revolution...’
Ash Merchant, Education Director, Fujitsu