The Social Capital Question

What would you say?

“It’s not only what you know or who you know; it’s who knows and likes you”


“it’s not only what you know or who you know; it’s who you know and who they know.”

What do you think?

It’s pretty much accepted that most good jobs aren’t found through job boards, newspaper ads or the Internet — approximately 40-80 percent of jobs are discovered in a less obvious place – the “hidden job market”. The key to opening the door to the hidden job market lies in having a high degree of social capital. So whichever message helps us best communicate this message should be a good one, right?

Social Capital refers to the value of relationships between people. Having lots of it can be a determining factor in not only getting a job but in keeping one too. High degrees of social capital can mean greater promotional opportunities, increased job satisfaction and higher pay. It helps to pry open the doors to tightly held labor market information and acts as that proverbial slap on the back from the good ole boy network. Moreover, social capital is the key to formal and informal career development support, the key ingredient for a successful career.

Beyond these discernible benefits, social capital provides pay-offs that may be less obvious. A high degree of social capital provides youth with a lot more than job leads, it serves as legitimization for participation and completion of workforce development programs and services. It’s so much easier to get a credential when you know someone on the other side of the workforce who wants to help you put that credential to work. And, it’s this truth, and many others like it, that makes the timely study of social capital imperative for the workforce development system.

It Ain’t That Easy

Twenty years ago, we mistakenly advanced the message of the importance of networking, grit, and likability with the publication of the MAKiN’ iT book. In preparing for the book’s publication, we conducted numerous interviews with formerly disconnected youth about the factors that led to their ultimate success. Connections to supportive individuals in the world of work came in as number two. Consequently, the MAKiN' iT Six Universal Survival Laws were born with number two (it’s not only what you know or who you know; it’s who knows and likes you that makes the difference) soon being echoed by hundreds of youth service professionals and the thousands of young adults they serve.

Why was it so easy for us to call for more social skills, work ethics, and likability without addressing the context in which those assets are developed? The truth is that every time we promote networking, credentialing and grit as the keys to workforce success without helping youth develop the necessary social capital to enhance their achievements, we are selling youth short and further promoting the social inequality that many of us are fighting against. Social capital is a rich kid’s workforce development program. It delivers earnings, retention, and advancement gains that we can only dream about.

Eleven years ago, we started to challenge ourselves to think past social skills development as the panacea for disconnected youth’s unemployment problems. We realized that youth weren’t disconnected at all (just maybe low connected). We discovered that every young person has bountiful connections to the world of work and that we were one of them. The question we came to ponder is who are we connected to and how are we sharing our social capital with the young people we serve? We suggest you ask yourself the same question too.

So which statement should I use?

We hope you didn’t think the two initial statements were meant to be directed to youth. They are for you. The first statement implies that the key to unlocking the door to the hidden labor market rests on our interpersonal abilities with a few connections while the second contends that helping youth realize labor market success rests mainly on our ability to build connections with groups of unfamiliar ones. It is not current connections that can will help us crack open the doors to new opportunities and better wages for youth, it’s new ones, often with people who we don’t know very well. Truly, if we want to help A go to C, it must first go through B. B cannot be our isolated community of workforce programs and partners. We much reach out and connect youth with the vast civic, community and economic agents that are essential to their lives and futures. In essence, we need to model what we want to teach.

A conundrum?

Workforce and youth development professionals, as well as all those who seek to increase youth’s future economic opportunity have a lot to gain by developing a better understanding of social capital and the strategies that can help build it. For too long, workforce development policies have shied away from the complexity of this issue. If doctors want to treat cancer, biologists must first understand the mechanics of the cell and develop an understanding of the forces that affect it. Similarly, if workforce development professionals want to better serve disconnected youth, understanding the science of connections must and should be the focus.

That's why we created Social Capital Builders. As Social Capital Builders, we will share with you the latest information on social capital research, practice, and its potential positive impact on the creation of more equitable programs and policies. We will challenge you to think outside the box and to build your social capital privilege so you can spend it on the hundreds of thousands of youth and young adults that so desperately need some social capital in their lives. Moreover, we will help you access tools and resources to increase your social capital literacy and ability to engage diverse populations in the social capital building process.

Thank you for signing up for Social Capital Insights. Now let’s go out there and help youth build social capital and then teach youth to spend it like cash!

-Edward DeJesus, President of DeJesus Solutions, the founders of Social Capital Builders.

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DeJesus Solutions

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Columbia, MD 21045

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