Let me tell you a story of two talented and ambitious young men, both dreaming of a high-flying career – Amaan in the City, Ben in the media.
I learned about them watching BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan’s brilliant documentary, How To Break Into The Elite. With searing honesty, Rajan, himself someone who entered the elite against the odds, shines a light on the crippling inequality of opportunity that endures in the UK today.
Amaan and Ben share many characteristics. Both are clever and left university with good degrees. Both are aiming high, Ben to be the next Gary Lineker, Amaan to earn his fortune working in finance. Arguably, Amaan should make it first. He got a first-class degree and is a former kickboxing world champion. Yet it’s Ben who, after help from a family friend, gets the breaks and begins to see his career take off. Meanwhile, Amaan, after being turned down for 40 graduate schemes, takes a job working in McDonald’s to help pay off his almost £90,000 of student debt. He’s now studying for a Masters at Imperial College London hoping that will help him find a job.
Why is it that one of these gifted and determined young men seemingly glides into a successful career while the other faces an uphill struggle full of invisible barriers and crushing disappointments?
The answer is ‘polish.’ The confidence, communication skills and social graces that privileged children begin to develop from birth. Polish is the key to understanding a set of behavioural codes that isn’t taught at school or university but that shores up class divides, keeping those on one side with access to opportunity, and those on the other, without.
One of the main components of polish is what we at Miticom call Innovative Communication: the advanced communication skills that help you connect with people and build relationships. Skills that help you capture people’s attention – and hold it. Skills that help you speak with confidence, impact and presence.
Skills that are vital in life and in business. And that not all of our children get to learn.
The harsh reality for so many young people
In his documentary, Rajan interviewed Dr Sam Friedman from the London School of Economics. Friedman quoted some alarming statistics:
> Young people from privileged backgrounds with a 2:2 degree are more likely to get a top job than their working-class peers who have a 1st
> People from working class backgrounds earn 16% less than their colleagues from privileged backgrounds who have the same qualifications and do the same job
> Black, British working-class women in top jobs earn £20,000 a year less than their white male peers from privileged backgrounds
Friedman says there is a direct link between this inequality and a lack of social polish. So, by not teaching all our young people vital communication skills, we’re actively creating disadvantage and preventing some from getting on the first rung of the career ladder, never mind reaching the top.
What this means for business
A diverse business is a strong business. And true diversity embraces differences in thought, feeling and experience alongside differences in age, gender, colour, sexuality, beliefs and ability.
To help our businesses grow and become sustainable in the long term we have to attract people from every corner of society.
What we mean by a talent pipeline
When you have a strong talent pipeline you have people ready to fill your positions – from the most junior to the most senior – who have a broad mix of skills, qualifications, experience and attitude. Crucially, they see you as an attractive employer who they want to work for.
To fill this pipeline you have to work hard, first to recruit the right people and then to retain them. In theory this should be easy. Globally, 30-50% of the working-age population is inactive, unemployed or working part-time. Even so, significant numbers of employers worldwide say they can’t fill positions: a staggering 40% in both the US and Germany1.
What’s putting young people off?
The whole way in which we work is in a state of flux, from the types of jobs we do, to where and when we do them. We live in a 24-hour, fast-paced, always-connected world where developments in technology are both creating new opportunities and causing new problems.
We’re a long way from the days in which businesses were handed down from father to son, and people had one job for life. Young people today expect to change their job often, even their whole career, at different stages of their life. While this suggests an exciting breadth of experience, it also creates insecurity.
So, this generation, more than any before, want to know what you can do for them, beyond just the pay packet.
More than anything else, they want quality learning and development opportunities. And top of this list is communication skills training. Young people are confident in their technical ability. But they’re hungry to learn how to make and develop genuine human relationships; how to listen, negotiate, network and lead – with integrity and humanity. They understand that these skills are key to their success.
To keep their talent pipeline flowing with an exciting mix of bright, enthusiastic and committed people who will help their business enjoy sustainable growth, performance and profitability, employers should recognise this too.
1 McKinsey Global Institute, A Labor Market that Works: connecting talent with opportunity in the digital age, June 2015
Miti Ampoma, Founder and Director – Miticom Communications Training