'Employment inequality' is adding to UK's dire labour shortage

'Employment inequality' is adding to UK's dire labour shortage
A study found that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds put themselves forward for 35% fewer roles after full-time education. Photo: Getty

A lack of confidence in Brits from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is holding back millions from applying for jobs, new data revealed, even as there is a record number of vacancies available in the UK and the country faces severe labour shortages.

Many from low-income backgrounds are hindered because they are not able to gain unpaid work experience, relocate for a job, use family connections or get financial help from parents.

This is according to a Totaljobs and the Social Mobility Foundation report in which 5,000 UK adults were surveyed last month.

The report defined someone from a "lower socioeconomic background" or "low-income background" as a person with a parent or guardian who worked in a technical or craft occupation; routine, semi-routine manual or service occupation, or were long-term unemployed.

This includes jobs like mechanic, plumber, electrician, train or HGV driver, postal worker, caretaker, waiting staff and machine operator.

Read more: UK jobs recruitment drive falls short of diversity and inclusion targets

Based on this definition, the study found that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds put themselves forward for 35% fewer roles after full-time education compared to people from professional backgrounds — on average, submitting six applications versus nine.

Those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds also earn less than half (£11,595, $15,550) of what their more privileged counterparts do in their first job after full-time education (£23,457).

Factors that negatively impact those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds when searching for jobs include not being confident in writing a CV (15%) and not being able to travel outside of their local area for work (13%).

“The stark reality is where you grew up and what your parents did still has an impact on your opportunities and your earning potential,” said Sarah Atkinson, CEO of The Social Mobility Foundation.

For many, the ability to do unpaid work experience continues to create an unfair advantage.

More than half (56%) of those from professional backgrounds have undertaken unpaid work experience at some point, versus 44% of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Read more: UK job market hit by candidate shortages

Of those that started their first job in the last two years, only 50% from lower socioeconomic backgrounds said they were confident about eventually being able to do the job they want. This contrasted with the 71% of those from more privileged, professional backgrounds.

And this gap has widened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

People from professional backgrounds were 47% more likely to have benefited from family connections when securing their first job, with over half receiving financial support during the job seeking process as well.

Only a third of people from lower socioeconomic groups have received help from family or friends in securing a job.

The likelihood of relocating for work decreases for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, with 76% of those from professional backgrounds prepared, or able to move, compared to 64% of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some 35% of those who live in social mobility "cold spots" feel that where they’re based has a negative impact on their job prospects and 16% of this group say that the lack of secure work in their local area negatively impacts their job search.

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“Businesses, now more than ever, need to implement a multi-pronged approach when it comes to boosting opportunity in the workplace, by reaching potential candidates in social mobility ‘cold spots’, engaging candidates with career advice and monitoring the diversity of their applications,” said Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs.

He said that by assessing hiring strategies to make them as inclusive as possible, employers can not only remedy some of the inequality in employment, but reach a larger, more diverse pool of talent to hire from.

Atkison added that “whether implementing contextual recruitment or reporting on the socio-economic background of staff, there is practical advice on the changes you can make to ensure you’re open to the biggest pool of talent and applicants with the most potential, not just polish.”

Watch: How To Create The Perfect CV