A new study has revealed in rural and coastal regions, young individuals in Britain are twice as likely to abandon their career aspirations compared to their urban counterparts.

While nearly half of companies believe they are bolstering social mobility, less than one-third of large firms and a mere 5% of SMEs offer work experience to young people outside their local area. Only 1 in 5 rural teenagers can participate in career-specific work experience, a figure dwarfed by the 39% in towns and cities.

A dearth of opportunities is creating ‘social mobility coldspots’, with over half of rural and coastal young people conceding that prohibitive costs have deterred them from university applications. A mere 1% of rural teenagers are interested in virtual work experience, with over a quarter stating that they need in-person internships to establish professional contacts.

A recent report reveals a concerning trend: rural and coastal youngsters are becoming entangled in social mobility coldspots, resulting in UK companies lacking a truly diverse workforce. This troubling situation arises from a combination of low parental incomes, scarcity of work experience opportunities, and lack of professional networks, which makes children growing up in these areas twice as likely to forgo aspirational careers than those in urban zones.

ONS Statistics

Official ONS data indicates approximately 2.2 million young people reside in rural and seaside areas, often characterised by high unemployment rates and scarce major employers. Consequently, despite the spotlight on British inner cities, opportunity disparity is significantly more pronounced in rural locales.

A recent study by social mobility charities, The Talent Tap and The Aldridge Foundation, uncovered that significantly fewer rural youngsters apply for undergraduate degrees – 19% compared to 39% from urban areas. The gap broadens at postgraduate level with 11% of students hailing from inner cities versus a mere 2% from rural areas.

Overall, an alarming 51% of rural youngsters confess that high costs and trepidation about relocating to cities deterred them from even considering university applications. An additional 56% have reshaped their personal career ambitions to match local opportunities – with a third asserting there are ‘few or no’ possibilities to pursue their career goals in their hometown.

The fresh data underscores a burgeoning urban versus rural divide commencing while children are still in school. The study reveals that less than one in five (19%) rural teenagers can partake in work experience that aligns with their career aspirations, compared to 39% of urban teens. Moreover, only 31% of rural youngsters undertake crucial in-person work experience to establish career contacts, compared to 34% of urban children.

Worryingly, 19% of rural children lacked any concrete career guidance at school and merely chose a subject area they like – significantly higher than the 13% in urban areas who experienced this.

This bias continues at university, with 42% of rural students not participating in any form of internship or work experience – double the number of urban students lacking this essential resource (21%).

Significantly, while almost half (46%) of urban students could leverage family contacts to secure internships and work experience, less than a third (32%) of rural and coastal students had a professional network to do the same.

Deeper Rural Problems

The study also revealed that businesses may inadvertently be enforcing social mobility coldspots due to their allocation of work experience opportunities.

Despite their substantial employment of two in five working adults, less than half (42%) of large companies with over 250 staff believe they are sufficiently promoting social mobility.

While 83% of large firms offer work experience, only 30% have a national outreach programme that targets youngsters in remote rural areas. Instead, 42% focus on offering work experience to local youths, conferring a massive advantage to urban children.

For small companies, comprising 99.9% of UK businesses, the situation is grimmer nearly half (47%) of them believing they support social mobility, a paltry 5% offer work experience outside their local area and a staggering 63% do not offer work experience at all.

Adding to this, less than a third of all firms cover travel expenses or offer remuneration for work experience and internships. Only a third cater to accommodation expenses, thereby disadvantaging young individuals residing far from London and other major cities.

Among those firms that do offer financial assistance, a third pay retrospectively, rendering it impossible for young people from low-income households to manage upfront costs.

While some firms have tried to bridge this divide by providing virtual work experience, rural teenagers were nine times more likely to prefer in-person work experience to expand their network of contacts.

The study further shows that 23% of rural and coastal young people would forgo potentially transformative work experience in a city due to financial constraints.

Naomi Ambrose, CEO of The Talent Tap, said:

“A third of firms say relevant work experience is a factor in who they hire, so missing out has a huge impact on young people. If companies really believe in diversity and equality, much more needs to be done to target young people from the far-flung rural and coastal areas into high quality employment.

“If we don’t support these teens with relevant work experience and networking, there is a danger of them becoming the Forgotten Generation with life chances far behind their city and suburban peers.”

Shona Nichols, CEO of The Aldridge Foundation, said, FE reported:

“Talent is distributed evenly but opportunity is not.  Greater representation of young people from diverse backgrounds in business is a win-win situation: both helping firms ensure their services and products are relevant to their target customers and fuelling social mobility in the country’s coldspots.

“It’s time for schools, colleges, businesses and the Government to work together to prioritise social mobility and equalise the opportunities for young people from deprived and underserved communities across the UK.”

Privacy Preference Center