Sutton Trust and top strategy firms launch Pathways to Consulting

25 October 2021 5 min. read

Four of the world’s leading strategy consultancies have joined forces with Sutton Trust, to launch a new social impact initiative. Pathways to Consulting is a programme which hopes to boost Britain’s social mobility, providing career opportunities and support to students from lower-income backgrounds.

Founded by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997, the Sutton Trust is an educational charity which aims to improve social mobility in Britain. The Trust’s programmes focus on high-attaining students from lower-income families, and have to date given 50,000 young people the opportunity to change their lives. Meanwhile, the organisation has published over 200 pieces of agenda-setting research, and it claims to have influenced government policy on more than 30 occasions.

The Sutton Trust’s latest initiative comes in the form of Pathways to Consulting, which seeks to improve social mobility in the consulting industry, providing access to top students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new scheme will support students over two academic years, helping build their knowledge and confidence to go into higher education and the workplace. Its cohort of students will then gain access to industry insight placements, experience undergraduate learning through lectures and workshops, and network with professionals from the firms.

Sutton Trust and top strategy firms launch Pathways to Consulting

The joint programme will initially support 100 students, and be scaled up to support more in the future. It will also aim to build wider awareness of consulting as a career across the 41,000-strong Sutton Trust alumni network. Applications for this year’s programme are now open, and Year 12 students in UK state schools are eligible to apply.

It is a route into social mobility close to the Trust’s Founder, Sir Peter Lampl’s heart, who noted that his “first break after university” came at Business School with Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

He went on, “Working as a consultant gave me the skills and knowledge to start my own company and later on, found the Sutton Trust which campaigns for increased social mobility. Without that opportunity and grounding I can’t say where I’d be today… If Britain’s leading employers – including consultancy firms – continue to recruit from a small pool of graduates, they will miss out on a range of talented recruits from non-privileged backgrounds. This will result in lack of fairness and will have economic consequences for the country.”

BCG is among the group of professional services giants to have backed the initiative. Fellow strategy consultancies Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, and Oliver Wyman have also collaborated with the Sutton Trust,

David Gillespie, Head of Oliver Wyman UK & Ireland, said, “Consultancy offers a varied, flexible, and fulfilling career option that has a real impact on organisations and societies. We’re excited to be co-leading this programme and supporting ambitious young people with a diversity of backgrounds make a difference to the world around them.”

The firms also boast a number of alumni who have benefitted from the Sutton Trust’s social mobility work. Erin McDermott, Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company and Sutton Trust alum, suggested the Trust was “instrumental” in her my journey to higher education. This included providing her with the guidance and support “that is so often missing for first-generation and low-income students.” She is now happy to see her employer backing that “transformative work,” and helping to show how careers in consulting can be accessible to students of all backgrounds.

Further elaborating on this, Vincent Poon, Associate Consultant at Bain & Company and Sutton Trust alum, added, “Coming from a low socio-economic background has definitely affected me at work: culturally I have different interests and experiences than other people and at times it can be difficult to fit in… Many people from low socio-economic backgrounds still don’t know what consulting is and why it’s important… That’s why it’s great to see these firms try to tackle the issue and raise awareness of the profession. It’s crucial that young people can learn about all the different opportunities that are out there, and know that they can access them just like everyone else can.”

Social mobility in the UK

The class divisions of British society run deep – and despite more working class students going to university than ever before, the same jobs are largely populated by the same social groups as they have been for decades. Even before the pandemic – which seems to have worsened the situation – research from the Social Mobility Foundation had found that a number of recruitment and retainment policies are still entrenching such inequality in the workplace of the UK’s largest companies.

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, meanwhile, social mobility is now widely believed to be in decline in Britain. More than half of people polled by the Social Mobility Commission in early 2021 said the government was failing to do enough to help the country’s least well off. The ministers’ advisory body on life chances also found that while 63% of people felt they had received a better school education compared with their parents, nearly half said they had a worse standard of living than the previous generation, and only 29% felt they had better job security.

This is a situation at odds with the picture painted by Boris Johnson’s Government, which has made “levelling up” one of its top priorities throughout the current Parliament – something noted by the Social Mobility’s Co-Chair during the summer. Steven Cooper noted that the Government was “nowhere near” delivering on its aspirational agenda to narrow the country’s inequalities, which had widened further during the Covid-19 pandemic. He added that while the Prime Minister had shown positive intent on the matter in his speeches, this was not a substitute for addressing the issue with concrete, costed plans.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Cooper argued, “It’s a positive thing that the intent is there... but that only gets you so far… What you now need is proper action plans, proper policies and proper funding. And we’ve seen bits of that, but nowhere near enough at this moment in time.”