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100 companies pledge to open up work-experience opportunities

Supermarkets, banks, law firms and energy providers sign up to Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy

One hundred companies have signed up to Nick Clegg’s social mobility strategy, pledging their firms will open up opportunities for work experience to try to bring an end to career advancement by “who you know”.

Supermarkets, banks, law firms and energy providers have committed to advertise work-experience places openly. Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons have signed up and join already enrolled companies such as Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Allen & Overy, BP, Shell and E.ON. Together the new firms employ more than two million people in Britain and have a turnover of over £500bn.

The new tranche of participants is a boon to the deputy prime minister, who has been made to feel that his project is something of a pet whim. When the prime minister was pressed on why he allowed acquaintances to be interns in his constituency office he said he was “very relaxed” about it. Clegg said: “I’m not relaxed about this at all.”

The project does not enjoy support across the board though. The Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, produced research over Christmas showing that government-funded arts and sports bodies have employed more than 800 unpaid interns in the last two years in the face of moves led by Clegg to end the practice.

By agreeing to take part in Clegg’s scheme, the companies have agreed to the following:

• Through visits by staff and mentoring schemes, companies should work with schools to encourage pupils’ ambitions.

• Advertise work experience places in schools rather than hoping individuals will learn of opportunities informally.

• Provide financial support so that young people from poorer backgrounds are not put off.

• Use application forms that prevent candidates from being screened out on the grounds of education history or ethnicity.

Clegg said: “This is an important step towards a society where it’s what you know, not who you know, that counts. Working with the coalition, the biggest hitters in British business are helping lead the way to a fairer, more open society.

“By opening their doors to young people from all walks of life, this marks the start of a culture shift among major employers, driven by the belief that ability and drive should trump connections and privilege.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds