The impact of COVID-19 on social mobility in the workplace

The negative impact of COVID-19 across the social and economic spectrum is undeniable. We reflect on the findings from the Social Mobility Commission and consider how employers can help give a much-needed boost to social mobility moving forwards.

Research recently published by the Social Mobility Commission has given a snapshot of public perceptions of where and whom the pandemic has impacted most. Key findings included:

  • Over half the public (56%) think the pandemic has increased social inequality.
  • 39% of the public think it’s getting harder for people from less advantaged backgrounds to move up in British society.

Almost half of the public (47%) say that employment opportunities should be the key priority for the government in any pandemic recovery plan (with employers being considered best equipped after schools and central government to improve outcomes).

The government has recognised the potential for schemes like apprenticeships and traineeships to act as drivers of social mobility, and considered against the backdrop of the detriments experienced in education during the pandemic (from early years to further education), the significance of these schemes bridging education and entry to the workforce is clear. That said, there is concern that the apprenticeship levy (which was introduced in 2017) has reduced the number of apprenticeships being started, particularly by those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research has shown that the levy has disproportionately funded higher-level apprenticeships for learners from more advantaged communities. Workplace learners from more deprived backgrounds are more likely to be selected for entry-level Intermediate placements. More recently, there have also been concerns that the government’s Kickstart project, which provides funding to employers to create jobs for 16 to 24-year olds on Universal Credit, hasn’t led to the anticipated increase in jobs for young people in the most vulnerable regions.

Social mobility is likely to be an element in the government’s pillars for its long term post-Covid recovery strategy. Employers can also do likewise and incorporate social mobility into their own recoveries. In an article last August Shoosmiths Head of Diversity and Inclusion Rachel Parker considered what employers can do to make sure that a greater commitment to social mobility is prioritised, and the good news is that, in these challenging times, there are options which don’t require major capital spend or extensive organisational change.

  • Understand the current socio-economic portrait of your organisation. This will serve as a base for developing targeted initiatives to address any barriers to workplace access or career progression. Continued monitoring will then allow for progress on these metrics to be measured.
  • Making sure that talent wants to stick around is vital. Hiring employees from diverse backgrounds doesn’t guarantee that every employee has the same experience or opportunities in the workplace. Employers also need to create a culture where employees feel respected, rewarded and that they can be themselves without feeling the need to change their persona. Recruiting, nurturing and retaining talent from diverse backgrounds creates a workforce that will ultimately be more productive, innovative and loyal.
  • Community outreach. By working with schools, further education colleges and universities, employers can broaden horizons and opportunities for young people. Although not all outreach will necessarily feed directly into an organisation’s talent pipeline, it will impact on longer term change in the local community or sector. Not sure where to start? Consider targeting underserved localities, which may be outside your organisation’s immediate vicinity, to ensure that community benefits are realised where they are needed most; and collaborate with other organisations to ensure the greatest impact.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



Read the latest articles and commentary from Shoosmiths or you can explore our full insights library.