Making social mobility an achievable goal

September 4, 2019

Newcastle-headquartered True Potential LLP is an award-winning financial services and technology organisation working with close to 20 per cent of UK financial advisers and their clients. But its presence goes much further. Last year, alongside MP Justine Greening, it launched the Social Mobility Pledge to encourage businesses to adopt policies that allow people, whatever their background, to excel. Its chairman, David Harrison, is also the inspiration behind the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility, which channels his philanthropic spirit to unlock the next generation’s potential. Here, Steven Hugill meets David and Justine to learn more about True Potential’s community consciousness and how improved social mobility can change people’s lives

England’s footballers and penalty shoot-outs have historically made for an unlucky combination.

Comforting then, that True Potential’s 250-strong workforce carries the same refreshingly sure-footed approach as displayed by the men’s team in their most recent two tournaments.

When North East Times arrives at the company’s modern Newburn offices, staff are scoring penalties at will in the Kick for Cash challenge – flashing graphics keeping a live count of monies raised from each successful spot-kick.

The contest – backed by ex-Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer – is generating funds for charities supported by the Harrison Centre for Social Mobility (HCSM), the firm’s charitable arm previously created by chairman David Harrison to provide an innovative and pioneering approach to towards equality of opportunity.

The totalizer eventually goes to £15,000 and is matched by the HCSM, taking the total raised for the day to £30,000. £10,000 alone is donated to Montagu and North Fenham under-sevens football team to support their appearance at a tournament in Barcelona.

For all involved it’s undeniably a fun event, but it is also a telling, serious snapshot into True Potential’s ethos, as is the business’ sponsorship of the World Transplant Games, held in Newcastle and Gateshead during August, which David says underlines its belief that sport, as a great leveller, provides the chance for opportunity to be spread more widely.

As well as its HCSM venture, the company last year launched the Social Mobility Pledge alongside MP Justine Greening, to provide people with greater opportunities to improve their career and life prospects.

The initiative sets out policies, such as name- blind recruitment, for businesses to adopt, and works with further education colleges on areas including work experience placements and apprenticeships, to access and nurture talent from all backgrounds.

So far, more than 300 firms representing almost three million employees, including BP, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Morrisons, John Lewis and ITV, have signed up to the scheme.

Its progress is highlighted at the first-ever North East Social Mobility Summit, which True Potential, crowned Business of the Year at the 2017 European Business Awards, is hosting alongside Justine on the day North East Times visits.

Providing a chance to assess the Pledge’s initial impact, the day allows for feedback from business leaders and academics that will help shape the cross-party political campaign’s course over the coming years.

The day is also providing a platform to launch True Potential’s Pathway to Progress white paper, which sets out how social mobility can be improved in the financial services sector and the North East as a whole.

Highlighting how the firm supports the education of young people outside the company, including many who are disadvantaged, it is a template for other businesses to follow in their quest to drive equality of opportunity.

“One of the first things that has come out of the first year of the pledge is companies wanting to learn from each other,” says Justine, who served as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities between 2016 and 2018.

“In a lot of cases they are already doing great things, but they want to do better and be part of a campaign that allows them to go further and faster,” says Justine, who, incidentally, scored her spot-kick in the penalty challenge.

“Social mobility is fundamentally about opportunity,” adds David, who, having moved from his native Cardiff to Newcastle as a youngster, grew up in New Kyo, County Durham.

“I’m a great believer in a second, third or fourth chance,” he continues, “and what you have to do is look at things practically, take what is coming and do something with it in a positive fashion.

“From the day True Potential was founded, we have been driven to find solutions that are simple, effective and unique.

“The management sit with their staff here and are expected to interview new starters themselves – it changes their skills and outlook.

“It’s these sorts of principles that underpin our approach to business and equality of opportunity.”

Furthermore, Justine says she hopes the initiative will resonate with the country’s new Prime Minister.

She says: “I always used to see how ministers liked to get on planes and go around the world to find all these best ideas, but actually it turns out on social mobility we have got a lot of the answers right here in our country – all you need to do is go out and find them.

“This is very much a business-led grassroots campaign and whatever Government is in place, they have to put this at the heart of their agenda,” continues Justine.

“It is core to Britain being successful – the Government needs to really look at how it can come up with a broader policy agenda to help unlock companies to do this more easily.”

Nowhere will social mobility be more important going forward, says David, than in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is expected to
blur the lines between the physical, digital and biological worlds with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and automation.

With its rapid onset, however, comes workers’ anxieties over jobs, with many fearing they will be replaced by robots.

This, stresses David, is where the importance of strong social mobility will be crucial.

“We need to step up our approach to social mobility in this country, by replacing limited prospects with training towards better paying and more skilled jobs, as well as entrepreneurism,” he says.

Justine agrees, saying people will always be critical to the country’s business environment.

She says: “The 21st Century is going to be about talent, so the countries that will do the best are the ones that make the most of the important asset they have, which is people.

“We have to make sure companies’ doors are truly open to a really diverse set of people leaving our education system over the next ten to 20 years.

“We have got to be set up for success.”

Equally important, says David, is providing youngsters, some of whom have become disenfranchised with the mainstream education system, with tangible opportunities to boost their skills in areas that chime with their interests.

Nowhere is this better highlighted than at the HCSM.

Based at Sunderland’s Beacon of Light, David launched HCSM in 2017 and it has since donated £200,000 to unsung North East heroes making a practical difference to people’s life chances.

At the Beacon of Light, HCSM has helped create a dedicated facility to help vulnerable young people who have fallen out of education learn valuable life and employability skills.

The work included setting teenagers a challenge to develop a mobile app capable of improving personal finance, with the winning team handed The Harrison Prize at the Summit for their endeavours.

“When we first met these children, some didn’t engage in eye contact,” reveals David.

“But the teachers there are an example for teachers anywhere, and the difference from where children start and where they get to is huge.

“The transformation is amazing, and I find it incredibly energising.”

True Potential

Social Mobility Pledge

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Monthly report - September 2019