YOUNG people from rural and coastal areas face being trapped in ‘social mobility cold spots’, leaving UK companies without a truly diverse workforce.
Ethan Singh www.thesun.co.uk
A report has found children growing up in rural and coastal regions are half as likely to go to university, and twice as likely to give up pursuing aspirational careers, as those in city and suburban areas.
This is due to a damaging combination of low parental incomes, lack of work experience placements and the absence of professional networks.
ONS figures show around 2.2 million young people live in country and seaside areas, which are often blighted by high unemployment and few major employers.
As a result – and despite the current focus on levelling up British inner cities – inequality of opportunity is considerably worse in rural areas.
The study from social mobility charities The Talent Tap and The Aldridge Foundation polled 1,000 18–25-year-olds and found 19 per cent of rural youngsters apply for undergraduate degrees –compared to 39 per cent from urban areas.
At postgraduate level the gap widens even further, with 11 per cent of students coming from inner cities compared to just two per cent from the countryside.
Overall, 51 per cent of rural youngsters confess high costs and fears around moving to cities stopped them even applying for university.
A further 56 per cent have changed their personal career ambitions to reflect what is available locally – with a third claiming there are ‘few or no’ opportunities to follow their career goals in their hometown.
Naomi Ambrose, CEO of The Talent Tap, said: “A third of firms say relevant work experience is a factor in who they hire, so missing out has a huge impact on young people.
“If companies really believe in diversity and equality, much more needs to be done to target young people from the far-flung rural and coastal areas into high quality employment.
“If we don’t support these teens with relevant work experience and networking, there is a danger of them becoming the Forgotten Generation with life chances far behind their city and suburban peers.”
The report, carried out via OnePoll, also surveyed 1,000 UK business leaders, and discovered around half of firms believe they are supporting social mobility.
But under a third of large companies and only one in 20 SMEs offer work experience to youngsters outside their local area.
On top of this, less than a third of all firms reimburse travel costs or offer pay for work experience and internships.
Only one in three pay for accommodation costs, again disadvantaging young people who live far from London and other major cities.
While some firms have attempted to bridge the gap by offering virtual work experience, rural teens were nine times more likely to want in-person work experience in order to build their network of contacts.
As a result, the study shows a quarter (23 per cent) of rural and coastal young people would not apply for potentially life-changing work experience in a city as they are unable to finance it.
Shona Nichols, CEO of The Aldridge Foundation, said: “Talent is distributed evenly but opportunity is not.
“Greater representation of young people from diverse backgrounds in business is a win-win situation: both helping firms ensure their services and products are relevant to their target customers and fuelling social mobility in the country’s cold spots.
“It’s time for schools, colleges, business and the government to work together to prioritise social mobility and equalise the opportunities for young people from deprived and underserved communities across the UK.”