Some employers are missing out on the best people by failing to cast their recruitment net into less affluent social groups and relying too heavily on hiring graduates.

When a degree is not necessary, there can still be snobbery in recruitment

Diversity and inclusion expert Charlotte Sweeney, an external advisor at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills, says many employees from less fortunate backgrounds have “worked their socks off” to succeed and deserve equal access to careers.

“The workplace can help social mobility but many employers ask for graduates when a degree is not always necessary for a role. There is some snobbery,” says Sweeney. The founder of business forum Creating Inclusive Cultures, she helps companies change their inclusion culture. She left school at 16, joined the apprenticeship scheme at Barclays and went on to become international head of diversity and inclusion for Nomura International PLC.

“Many people who have succeeded from a less fortunate background have demonstrated a work ethic and a level of resilience that would benefit any employer.”

Sweeny says employees from a less fortunate background “can have an in-built tenacity, whereas for some employees from more affluent families or those from a good university, there can be an element of having things handed to them. You don’t know how they will deliver under pressure or deal with criticism at work.

Sweeney welcomes the increase in apprenticeships but says more needs to be done to progress people from lower social groups into successful careers. “Assessment centres and tools such as psychometric testing are the way to identify talent. Employers should not just rely on qualifications,” she says. “You need to focus on identifying potential, regardless of a candidate’s background.”

Young people living in some of the UK’s biggest cities are not always aware of career opportunities on their doorstep.

“There are different attitudes and perspectives regarding social mobility and work. I was in Leeds talking to school leavers who felt they needed to go to London to progress a career. They didn't realise they had great companies in Leeds such as Direct Line and global business services group EY. They thought their only opportunities locally were with the council or NHS. There is a perception issue to address.”

She believes that an improvement in social mobility does have a positive impact on economic growth. “People do not have to work in the same industries or localities as their parents and grandparents.”