Social mobility is one of the preeminent challenges of our time. Very few of us would argue that people should not be allowed to go as far as their ability can take them but yet, a failure to address social mobility does just that. For many people, the barriers to success are built to an impossible scale and moving on up to a higher social standing is not based wholly on ability or determination, but through being born in a certain family in a certain location.

Not only is this unjust, it’s also economically damaging.  A recent study by the Sutton Trust found that if the UK’s social mobility score improved the European average, we would see our economy increased by around £170 billion, or £2,620 per person. From all angles, social mobility is a problem we need to address with immediacy.

Conquering the multifaceted challenges of social mobility will take a national effort that transcends any one industry. However, some of good news is that those of us working in tech are making a real and positive difference right now. Our new report, ‘Moving on Up: and analysis of social mobility in IT, shows how IT is helping to give talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity for a rewarding career that they may not otherwise have got.

Using data from the Office for National Statistics, some of the key findings from the report are that:

  • IT offers lower cost qualifications and more numerous routes to entry than other highly regarded professions such as medicine or law.
  • 75% of those in in the IT profession have experienced upward social mobility compared to their parent’s social class.
  • IT offers comparable social mobility to the business and accountancy professions.
  • 80% of IT project / programme managers have experienced a higher grading of social mobility than their parents. IT occupations have the second-highest level of ‘long-rang social mobility’, where people move from a low social background to a high-status occupation.
  • These are causes for (muted) celebration. But what has struck me most while working on the recent launch of the report is that there is a story behind all of these statistics. Although looking at social mobility at an aggregate level is an important tool to illustrate a problem, it should never detract from the fact that every time poor social mobility affects life chances, there is a human being behind that.

This was put into sharp focus at the recent launch of the report at Rolls-Royce L&D in Derby. There were examples of people who had used digital technology to help their children with autism and examples of people who had dropped out of school, but after being given a chance in IT have excelled in some of the most reputed companies in the UK. More than one person had been the first in their family to go to university based on an interest in IT and these are far from isolated incidences, they are examples of what our industry can do at its best. 

It’s stories like these that put a picture to the statistics in this report. More importantly, I hope that they act as a catalyst for all of us to do more when it comes to social mobility in IT and beyond. These stories should not be exceptions, but realities for everyone if they have the ability and ambition.

That’s why we have produced a number of recommendations in the report that will go some of the way to instilling better social mobility in our sector, including:

  • IT teaching resources need to be accessible, designed and prioritised for the context where they are most needed.
  • School leadership teams should be given specific support and encouragement around the adoption of IT, and in turn should encourage their teachers to participate in national networks and programmes.
  • Every IT education programme in schools and communities, on a national or regional basis, should incorporate policy objectives around social mobility.
  • Teachers, careers advisers and parents need to be provided with the full breadth of information about digital professional careers.

Despite there being a focus on what schools can do, the report is clear that we can all still play our part. This means showing the young people in our lives the many opportunities that tech can afford them, and it means providing effective and visible role models. It means providing opportunities in the work place for people who have ability, irrespective of background, and lifting their aspirations by cultivating their talents.

At its most simple level, it means keeping a weather eye on how out decisions will influence social mobility on a daily basis. Through working on this report on recent weeks and listening to how a career in IT has transformed the lives of so many talented people, it’s a challenge we all should be keen to accept.

To read the full report and see further details of the launch, visit the social mobility section of the BCS website.

About the author

The BCS Policy team works to inform and drive the debate on public and private IT policy developments.