The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) is a charity which aims to make a practical improvement in social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds. The SMF was founded in 2005 in order to provide opportunities and networks of support for 16-17 year olds who are unable to get them from their schools or families.
Thirteen years on, the first students supported by us have gone on to be successful in achieving degrees and graduate entry jobs. As well as extending support to students throughout university across our 11 career sectors (Accountancy, Architecture, Banking & Finance, Biology & Chemistry, Business, Engineering & Physics, Law, Media & Communications, Medicine, Politics, and Technology) we now run programmes to support young people wherever they live in the UK.
We provide support for students through our Aspiring Professionals Programme (APP). All students are matched to a professional mentor in their chosen career sector. This gives them the opportunity to have an e-mentoring relationship with someone who can provide an insight into a professional career and help their understanding of how to progress to a career they are interested in.
As far as possible, we also secure internships for students in their chosen professions. These are generally organised for students in their home city, with local businesses. Work placements offer students a fantastic way to gain valuable career insight, by working on small projects, shadowing individuals and going to meetings and visits where possible.
Additionally, students are given university application support, which ranges from taking them on visits to universities around the UK, providing one to one personal statement checking, and delivering Oxbridge Admissions workshops. We also run a number of tailored skills sessions and career workshops, which are designed to develop key employability skills and provide another opportunity for students to meet employers.
The SMF’s Birmingham office has been open since 2016. We support students from all over the West Midlands, not only from the city of Birmingham, and this year we have our biggest cohort ever, with a particularly high number of students interested in STEM subjects. We believe that our students are the innovators of the future, but in order to give them the best chance of realising their potential, we want them to have as much interaction as possible with professionals in their chosen sector.
Over the coming months, we are hoping to make as many connections as possible with local, West Midlands-based STEM organisations to make sure that our students get the experience and knowledge of their chosen sector they will need to support them into university, and then a career. People from working-class backgrounds are still very much under-represented in the top professions – for example, only 6% of doctors come from working-class backgrounds – and this is something that we are committed to changing.
The impact of our support for students is significant, helping them to gain the skills and experience necessary to access careers and universities that they may have previously thought beyond their reach. Our students have described their experiences with local employers as ‘inspiring’ and ‘enjoyable’, and stress that they gained ‘real insight’ from placements and mentoring.
There are a number of ways in which local employers and organisations can support our students, including volunteering at an SMF event, acting as a professional mentor, or providing a work placement for an SMF student during the summer. In-line with the goals of the West Midlands Innovation Alliance, the SMF is keen to promote regional growth by encouraging the next generation of innovators, and by tackling the under-representation of a group of young people who have a lot to offer to the scientific and technological communities of the West Midlands.
To find out more about the work of the SMF, please follow this link to our latest Annual Review, or visit our website. If you’d like to get involved in supporting local students in the West Midlands, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling our office on 01215730044.
(Author: Connie Cramp, The Social Mobility Foundation)