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Rant #342
(published August 9, 2007)
Old School Tie Strangles the Professions
by Danny Bernardi
The Sutton Trust, a UK based educational charity which campaigns for more students from deprived backgrounds to gain access to British universities, has undertaken a survey in order to come up with the blindingly obvious conclusion that you are unlikely to get a top job in one of the older professions unless you have attended a private school or a decent university. What a surprise! The survey appears to have been no more than a crude review of just one publication entitled Who's Who, which is best described as a fawning list of the elite. Furthermore the professions reviewed in the survey were a rather limited cross section of the employment market, including Judges, politicians, journalists, medics, and CEOs of FTSE 100 companies.

The Sutton Trust pays no attention to newer professions, the entrepreneurs or those skilled trades people who make very good livings at the top of their chosen fields (often without the need to attend university or a decent school). Many state educated pupils will go onto work in new industries such as IT or within sectors where there is more of a culture of advancement on merit. For example there are many university lecturers and local government officers from state schools. The advertising industry and the media are also two sectors which, although competitive, actively seek employees from a diversity of backgrounds. Within the field of human resources many in senior positions have risen from the factory floor, having worked their way up into white collar jobs (often whilst completing professional exams in their own time or on day release long after they have left school). Nobody in their right mind would seek to challenge the basic thrust of The Sutton Trust's argument, that those from inner city state schools are routinely denied access to the top jobs in the older more established professions. More should certainly be done to widen access to universities, the leading state schools and the long established professions. We didn't need The Sutton Trust to thumb through Who's Who to tell us this!

No account has been taken of the fact that pupils from such backgrounds will vote with their feet by working in sectors which are more welcoming to those from the lower socio-economic groups. You will find former inner city, state educated kids undertaking a variety of jobs in organizations which welcome diversity and where people are judged on their merits and abilities rather than on background and social class.

This survey should have been more thorough, it should have reviewed a wider spread of sectors and professions and applied a little more science to its methodology. A brief glance at some of the well researched policy documents and reports published by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development would have provided a broader and fairer picture of the current state of the employment market. Many organizations are struggling to attract and retain talent. The truth is there has never been a better time to be young and hungry - whatever school you went to. There are more options available to those leaving school now than ever before, such as day release, on-the-job training and Modern Apprenticeships. Not everyone wants to become a barrister or an MP and it might be worth noting there a good few plumbers, plasterers and electricians who earn more than some of the top journalists listed in Who's Who.

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