Tackling Social Mobility

Matt Baty Matt Baty
18th March 2023

Prior to joining Farrell Associates I spent 10 years with an outsourcing company in a small market town in the North West called Nantwich. Nantwich is a fairly affluent place and steeped in history; it was a focal point of the English Civil War, provided salt to the Roman settlers in Chester and, legend had it, was home to 4 bears which inadvertently contributed to the Great Fire of Nantwich in 1583. It’s a nice place to live and work. It’s also slap bang in an area blighted by urban decline and de-industrialisation.

Just 15 minutes’ drive away is Stoke-on-Trent; a visitor here may be forgiven for assuming the Luftwaffe are still active – you drive in through a corridor of disused factories and derelict buildings and what can only be described as wasteland. The city centre bears all the hallmarks of decay; boarded up retail outlets, charity shops and gambling establishments.

Nantwich is often grouped with Crewe, separated only by a 3 mile road lined with large houses. Crewe and Nantwich are worlds apart economically. A 4 bedroomed detached house in Nantwich will cost £350,000 whereas in Crewe, within the same CW postcode will be closer to £200,000. You can buy a 2 bed terrace for £90,000, but finding a job that will pay you above the national average? That is much more of a challenge.

When I was head of recruitment for ROI in Nantwich, Crewe and Stoke were part of our catchment area. It’s a good business employing 350 people across 5 sites including Milton Keynes and Gothenburg in Sweden. The majority of our hires were junior sales and customer services roles. It was possible to progress from an entry level role to more senior positions. Many of the senior management team came from that route, including the operations director whom I recruited straight from University. He’ll forgive me for saying his CV was poor; I almost rejected him!

The skills involved in a junior business development position (booking sales appointments, building relationships, objection handling, pipeline management, CRM, communication and influencing) are identical to roles I’ve seen in other organisations. A friend of mine is a stock broker; honestly, the work he does is no different to what many of the staff in Nantwich do. He finds leads, identifies buyers, influences them to make decisions, rinse and repeat.

J will probably make £250,000 this year. The top performing member of staff in Nantwich? Well £35,000 would be considered good. What is the difference between the 2 people? Well I’m confident that the top performing sales person in Nantwich possesses more skill, more determination and experience than many of the sales people I’ve placed on far bigger salaries in other organisations. No prizes for guessing which one went to an independent school, university followed by ‘back door’ internships in the city, versus the one from an average comprehensive, straight into work.

I’m convinced that one of the keys to social mobility is knowledge and geography. In the North West, the odds are stacked against you. Schools do not have the understanding or resources to launch people into careers that can change their lives. The very best will do OK, but to really access great jobs you have to look outside of Crewe. Travelling to say, Manchester from Crewe might look easy, but trust me, it’s expensive and unreliable. Birmingham? It’s only an hour on paper. In reality it’s a nightmare. We used to joke that people wouldn’t travel from one side of Crewe to the other for work, Nantwich might as well have been on the moon. This isn’t because people are lazy; far from it. It’s just that when you live outside of London where a bus arrives every 10 minutes, you can jump on a Boris Bike or even a cab to travel, it’s hard to conceptualize how a travel network can suck your will to live, limit your career opportunities and when your basic pay is less than £20,000 per year, that £30 per week bus pass will drain a massive chunk of your disposable income.

The Crewe Pledge is designed to address some of this massive inequality. Whilst it can’t do much about getting the buses to turn up on time (or at all), it recognizes the role companies can play in encouraging young people to think more about their futures, access training and internship opportunities and careers. The work they do is highly practical; running workshops and seminars with employers to learn about how they can employ their skills.

Farrell Associates are part of this, and whilst, as a small business we can’t employ lots of people, we can use our expertise and time to contribute to chipping away at inequality. Over the last two years I have run workshops, been part of ‘mock assessment days’, undertaken interview training and CV building sessions.

Our philosophy is very much to ‘demystify’ the world of work and support young people in a more practical way. Naturally we try to incorporate the sustainability angle, but by working with young people, schools and the local authority through The Crewe Pledge, we can help young people navigate some of the life stages that those from more affluent and professional families take for granted.


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