Want to attract socially diverse talent into London? Open your own doors to them

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Often D&I commentary only focuses on the problems in the industry that need fixing, rather than solutions. At Arrival Education we create solutions that will help companies deliver real change; we explore one of these here.

Companies are increasingly looking for ways to make themselves more attractive to socially diverse university students. Yet, many of these diverse, bright young people are frozen out of internships in top companies because of where they live and not having access to affordable accommodation. We think we have a zero-cost solution: renting out employee’s underutilised properties, thereby avoiding otherwise steep rental fees. 

Barriers to entry

Research done by the Sutton Trust showed that 40% of interns cited external barriers to taking up an internship, such as being unable to afford it, or being unable to move to a city to take up an opportunity.

40%

The "minor" things

Today, completing an internship is seen as a prerequisite for graduates wanting to land their dream job. Given the significance hiring managers attach to internships, it’s no wonder that they are highly competitive. We recently helped an employer to recruit two interns and were 30 times oversubscribed. What’s more, there is an unequal playing field. Those who are “in-the-know” have a much higher chance of success, an issue Rick Bacon wrote about in our June edition of The Inclusion. I believe it goes beyond who you know; it’s also about where you live.

When recruiting for internships, many companies offer to reimburse travel costs. This helps make opportunities accessible to those living in the suburbs and commuter towns. But what about those living outside of commuting distance, realistically more than 90 minutes from a city?

Accommodation is expensive, especially in London. According to the Government’s Valuation Office Agency, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in London is £1,350 per month, whilst the average gross monthly pay for London interns is £1,500. Even for those earning an above-average wage, the need for advance deposit and rent payments puts a significant strain on already tight budgets. Unless a young person is lucky enough to have friends or relatives in London, they cannot afford to take up an internship, and therefore won’t even apply.

In some cases, companies provide bursaries. However, in addition to the cost of the accommodation itself, companies are also likely to incur administration costs. Consequently, few companies outside of the biggest ones offer accommodation support. Thousands of young people are currently frozen out.

The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in London is £1,350 per month, whilst the average gross monthly pay for London interns is £1,500.

A readymade solution already exists

You might be inclined to think it’s a supply and demand problem: it is not possible to find accommodation for those who are excluded. But that’s not the case. From my experience in the professional services industry, I know that accommodation exists through a number of sources: 

1. Many organisations already have partnerships with property management companies. These companies provide serviced apartments, and large firms often benefit from discounted rates. They could open these up to prospective interns.

2. Partners own apartments in central London that they may use for one or two nights a week throughout the year. The summer holiday months, when internships most frequently occur, are likely to be when these properties are least utilised. 

3. Your staff may be open to hosting somebody. Have you considered asking? Your employees could volunteer spare rooms or sofa beds to interns, under a same-sex requirement in case of the latter. You could even financially incentivise staff to do so; many interns would be willing to pay rent, so long as it’s below what they would otherwise have to pay for their own place. 

Have you ever considered these options? Do you think your partners or staff might want to support a prospective intern in taking their first step on the career ladder? We think it’s a win-win. 

Few companies outside of the biggest ones offer accommodation support. Thousands of young people are currently frozen out.

Company and employee benefits

Demonstrating your commitment to diversity

Authenticity is held in high esteem by today’s early years talent, who want to work for values-driven companies, genuinely open to all applicants. Many companies talk about being inclusive, fewer walk the walk. Being bold here would set you out in the marketplace. The interns would acknowledge how much you value their being there, before they even start the role. 

Access to a more socially and diverse talent pool

More diverse organisations are proven to be more successful ones. Research by McKinsey has shown that companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity are 33% more likely to outperform on profitability.

Intern benefits

Increased internship experience

Gaining a greater depth of experience from their internship. If they cohabit with your staff, they get to know them on a personal level, getting a real sense of what kind of people your company employs. That helps them decide if they want to stay on if they are offered a full-time role.

Reducing stress

Reducing the stress around their whole internship experience. Having their accommodation secured early, and guaranteed for their whole time working for you, takes a huge burden off their minds. This should help them focus on the day-to-day of the internship, improving their performance during their time with you.

We are aware that the idea is not without risks: you’re giving them access to your property. But think about it – what incentive would they have to abuse your trust? They are keen to impress you, and being early in their career they would not want to do anything to damage their future prospects.

Forward this to your HR department

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The movement has already started

The concept is not new. Think about the growth of Airbnb over the last ten years. The economy is experiencing a boom in “asset sharing” businesses, from storage through companies like Stashbee, to cars with Drivy. What’s more, the concept is increasingly being applied with a social value mission. A government-funded initiative called Fairbnb was established two years ago in Croydon, South London. Under a similar principle to this idea, it looks to provide temporary rental accommodation at affordable rates for those most in need, by matching underutilised capacity to need. 

Why not do something now?

All of these businesses require an ‘online marketplace’ to be created: people on both sides of the exchange need to be found, and technology developed. In this case though, you could launch it now, at no cost. You don’t need to develop an app to connect supply and demand. 

With the recruitment cycle for next year’s spring and summer internships starting soon, now is the perfect time to ask the question to your staff: could we do this? It’s a great way to demonstrate your desire to address the inequity experienced by socially diverse talent, whilst helping your business unlock the diversity dividend at the same time. 

If you like the idea and would like to expand the quality of the talent coming into your internship programme, forward this to your HR director. Arrival Education can help you  find you the talent and bring it to you. Get in touch with us to find out more.

About the author

Matt is a Programmes Manager at Arrival Education. Before joining Arrival, he worked as a Management Consultant, with PwC and Elixirr. He decided to make the switch so as he could focus full time on his passion: promoting equal access to opportunities in education and work for all young people, regardless of their background. His role here means that he sees first hand how hungry our network are for work experience, and he knows how important that first opportunity is. He believes solutions such as this take us one step closer to levelling the playing field.

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