State schools have made great progress in equipping the next generation for brighter futures. However, there are still major hurdles for young people in terms of gaining entry to the workplace.
Indeed, in this country there is still a yawning gap between state school students and their more affluent peers in terms of networks, connections and access to industry.
The statistics paint a stark picture - state school pupils make up 93 per cent of the school aged population, yet those from privately educated background are significantly over-represented in leading UK professions, with 74 per cent of the top judiciary, 61 per cent of doctors and 51 per cent of journalists from private school backgrounds.
In short, the vast majority of the population is grossly unrepresented in public life. And this despite a huge narrowing in academic attainment.
At Speakers for Schools, the charity of which I am chairman, we recognise that these are issues we cannot afford to ignore or overlook.
Bridging the gap
Following the celebration of our 5th anniversary, we have launched our "Bridging the Gap" campaign and talk series. This brings 35 leading figures in public life, from the Prime Minister to the founder of Wikipedia to the governor of the Bank of England, to deliver talks in state schools throughout the country and to help bridge the gaps that exist between ambition and opportunity, between young people of different backgrounds, and between the leaders of today and the future generations.
We're incredibly proud to have the support of our ambassador speakers as we know there is a link between access to leading, influential figures and the sparking of students' aspirations.
However, we also know that to realise their ambitions, young people require access to opportunities. Work experience is one such opportunity, and indeed, it is regularly cited as key to broadening work prospects and promoting greater social mobility.
Notably, three quarters (74 per cent) of employers state that work experience is "essential" when hiring at entry level. Despite this, only 38 per cent of employers offer work experience opportunities to young people.
First step on the ladder
This worrying disparity between perceived necessity and actual opportunity is further aggravated by Ofsted's finding that work experience in state schools relies heavily on the personal networks of pupils' parents - which often leads to disadvantaged students missing out.
Added to this, the 2016 High Fliers report finds that 32 per cent of graduate roles at the top 100 UK firms will be staffed by those who have already had experience in the organisation. This figure jumps to 80 per cent in investment banking. With work experience a key determiner of access to the work place, it's simply not good enough to allow the chance and luck factors of familial connections to be the driver of opportunity.
This is why, as part of the Bridging the Gap campaign, we are announcing the roll out of our work experience platform, S4SNextGen. The platform builds on our commitment to help bridge the gap by breaking down barriers to networks and organisations, and goes hand in hand with the efforts of our talk series to inspire young people by giving them tangible opportunities to develop their futures.
A new network
In particular, S4SNextGen will help schools and employers target young people without personal networks or access to work experience, providing opportunities at leading companies. The roll out of the platform will begin with "digital pilot employers" in select locations during 2017.
Throughout the year we hope that more employers and institutions passionate about opening up their workplaces to harder-to-reach state schools and young people will sign up, enhancing social mobility and also helping diversify their own work forces.
Despite the perceptions, it's not immensely complex or hard to implement. Through S4SNextGen we are reducing the barriers that surround work experience. So far 20 firms have signed up to our programme for this summer, including my own company Caxton Associates.
I hope that more leading figures and their companies will join us in both levelling the playing field for the potential leaders of tomorrow, and also in tapping into the great resources of our state school pupils. After all, if you as leading employers value those with work experience, who else is there to unleash that potential?
This article first appeared in City AM on 24th May 2017.