Growing up in Belfast during the 1970s and 1980s, I was the first person in my family to pass the 11+, to go to grammar school and then onto university. I am now a Partner at Deloitte, one of the biggest management consultancies in the UK. I work hard and enjoy what I do and never really thought that my story was in any way unusual. Having three children of my own now and seeing how hard they have to work and the competition that exists for jobs, I imagine that my story would be less common today.
We know from research that socio-economics is a major determinant of educational outcomes. Another impact of this is that many young people find themselves in challenging schools without the support they need to make the best choices or compete for the best jobs. And this is often exacerbated by employers who want to recruit in the most cost-effective way possible – which often means going to just a select few universities where they can take their pick from a very talented and high performing student population. But increasingly this is not a diverse one.
When this path is followed, organisations are somehow surprised that within their organisation everyone looks the same, thinks the same and acts the same. Research shows that a diverse workforce is good for business – it drives innovation, reflects the customer base and reduces the risk of group think. We need to form a long-term commitment, not just to recruit a diverse pool of employees, but to help them get to the top. For example, at Deloitte we are currently working really hard to increase the female representation at the top of our organisation and to recruit and retain a wider pool of talent from a wider range of schools, colleges and universities.
We must also be mindful that millennials have different expectations to previous generations, with a big focus on the experiences they can gain. Employers need to think differently about how they can adapt to this new reality, to attract the best talent and provide them with the development opportunities to support their success and a great experience that will stay with them long after they may have left the company.
For me there are two things we need to focus on:
1) To be successful in a modern economy we need to utilise all of our talent, and
2) Businesses need to change how they find, recruit and retain the very best talent to achieve this.
Of course it is not just about the employer. In the 21st century the need for businesses and education providers to collaborate has never been greater. Together we need to develop an education experience that is modern, relevant and life-long; we need to create the infrastructure that will enable all of our young people from all walks of life to successfully enter adult life and support themselves, their communities and the economy. All of this will be critical as we move out of the difficult financial years since 2007 and into growth in an increasingly complex global market.
Julie Mercer is Lead Education Consulting Partner at Deloitte