Rurality has been shown to be a barrier to employment opportunities. At one level, as I discussed previously, this barrier is quite literally a mobility issue due to a lack of necessary infrastructure, such as public transport.
However, these literal mobility issues do spin into and reproduce sociological issues, which brings us more into line with traditional social mobility theory. If school leavers in a particular area cannot get to clusters of employment and industry, then they will not look for these opportunities.
As I mentioned previously, train travel from Ammanford in South Wales into Cardiff – only an hour away by car – is currently not feasible for commuting. However, if there is not demand for this service, transport providers will not rectify the problem.
This spirals down into a socioeconomic cap on an area which tacitly labels the geography as one from which few people will attain careers requiring a commute. This view is reflected both externally as well as from within, where families, parents, teachers and peers may not see the potential for a school leaver, and so the information, incentives and attitude necessary to break out of socioeconomic norms for the geography are not readily available.
Indeed locally, among school leavers, including my entry-level work force at Gatehouse ICS, there is a prevailing attitude that there are no jobs to go to after a university education. Rather, many feel all they would be left with is debt. That view is expressed both by graduates and those who chose not to pursue university education.
More generally, we have heard from students that they are generally advised to study their best 3 subjects at A-level and pick the best of these for a degree, with no career destination in mind. Consequently, mid A-levels, students with high aspirations are left questioning the validity of the journey, feeling as though it is too late to change course and graduating without a plan.
What this perception shows is a huge gap between the jobs that actually are out there and awareness of those opportunities. School leavers are not equipped for, don’t know about or find unreachable the jobs that do exist, and no provision is made to connect them to these opportunities, which leads to further distancing.
There is another element to this, which is that social mobility theory may focus too much on trying to move people up a hierarchy of socio-economic classes. There are challenges with this, not least because the socio-economic classes assume individuals want to change their geographies, peer groups and hobbies. Rather, it seems likely that while many people want to improve the lives they are in, they don’t want to be forced to move from their homes.
The other important consideration is that it is not the goal of everyone to pursue wealth. There are many valuable jobs and pursuits that do not bring increasing wealth and, likewise, there is now an acknowledgement of work /life balance even among entry level positions, rather than a willingness to work all hours in pursuit of success.
How does Gatehouse ICS seek to help?
For the small Ammanford-based consultancy that I founded, the goal of social mobility is to help young people to the first step on the career ladder or through the first gate. It is less about the pursuit of wealth and more about addressing economic instability and all its negative consequences. It is about providing choice and economic stability with the potential to progress (however that is defined) according to the wishes and abilities of the individual.
As I’ve noted in my previous blog, our senior staff do choose to come into the office to mentor entry level people. This element of sacrifice for the cause is seen by many seasoned people in our industry as giving back. It reflects a broader view that professional achievement is not simply about personal career advancement, but also helping the next generation to take the first steps in their careers.
How can industry help?
Social mobility efforts can be implemented across the life sciences industry by having rurally based professionals take on mentoring roles or provide insights and support to individuals and rural consultancies like ours.
Such individuals might also consider building greater awareness about opportunities by attending school assemblies and talking about the opportunities that exist in life sciences. The ABPI has a wonderful online resource which describes these careers. However, these resources need champions to go to schools as we have done with our two local comprehensive schools. I cannot tell you how rewarding it was to survey these pupils after we presented to them and discovering that over 90% felt they had new opportunities. Even more of a revelation to me was the way teachers came alive with hope that there are viable careers available to students who choose to study further.
Another option might be for pharma companies to sponsor an internship for students from rural areas, or perhaps sponsor companies such as ours to go into local schools to talk about opportunities and career options.
There might also be an option for secondment and work experience from rural consultancies within pharma or other consultancies.
Industry can play a role in addressing social mobility within the context of rurality as part of their broader equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. However, it is important that any programme is handled sensitively, recognising the desire of many rural people, particularly in Wales, to stay close to home.