One of the greatest predictors of youth labor market attachment and success is social capital. A growing body of research is now pointing to the importance of this undervalued form of social capital and necessary component for young people’s long-term economic success.
Many programs focus mainly on increasing skills and credentials without helping youth develop the social capital that could help put these achievements to work. Essentially, many programs have placed the cart before the horse. Building youth connections to the workforce can create the conditions necessary for developing skills, mature work ethics, and a sense of hope needed for long-term labor market success. Youth with limited social capital have lower rates of labor force participation and fewer opportunities to discover their own unique contribution to the world of work. Social capital ignites sparks for success by building pathways for reciprocal giving between youth and individuals from specific industry clusters. It sparks young peoples' investment in education, skills training, and pursuing positive lifestyles by providing proof that there are others on the other side of the labor market ready, able and willing to help them put these new achievements to work. It prompts employers' investment in young people by showing them the talent they are leaving behind.
Without these real-life sparks, most young people may say, “why bother." An examination of current labor market participation rates reveals this growing discontent: the share of 16- to 24-year-olds saying they didn’t want a job rose from an average 29.5 percent in 2000 to an average 39.4 percent over the first ten months of 2014. For black youth, the rates are worse. Black youth with high levels of social capital have greater information about job openings, requirements, and duties. Youth who are referred to positions by family and friends have greater job satisfaction, earn more and have longer job retention Moreover, when referred to a job, black youth face fewer incidences of racial discrimination and stereotyping. Job offers through a young adults’ friends and family members had much higher acceptance rates – 81% – compared to 40% for newspapers and 60% for direct employer contact. Let’s not even mention on-line applications. Unfortunately, young people from low-income communities don’t have an abundance of gainfully employed friends or family members to help connect them to labor market success. Youth are lacking people who can help them access insider information about job openings, position requirements, and particular nuances of the workplace, as well as the behavioral characteristics of those who manage it. Without these connections, many youth are unable to identify the 60% of available jobs that are not listed in the newspapers or on-line. Many employment opportunities exist in what economist call “the hidden labor market." Young people can’t prepare for, or apply to, jobs they don’t know exist. Perhaps, most importantly, black and brown youth need access to people who can help them counteract many of the negative stereotypes held by employers and others. Without someone to represent them as something more than what is portrayed on the local news, young people of color have an additional barrier to labor market success that very few of their more affluent white peers possess. Subjective views of employers leave young people of color on the outside of the mainstream economic window, looking in and trying to find the door. If the workforce development system is interested in helping black and brown youth prepare successfully for gainful participation in the 21st Century, helping them build social capital is just as important as job readiness and skills training, if not more so. If the youth unemployment problem is to be effectively addressed, young job seekers must receive assistance in the area of establishing and cultivating opportunity connections, and then drawing from the resources that these connections provide.
Without sustained access to these “opportunity connections,” a major part of the workforce development equation is missing.
Edward DeJesus is the President of DeJesus Solutions and the founder of Social Capital Builders. You can find out more at www.socialcapitalbuilders.com or follow DeJesus @dejesusspeaks on Twitter or Instagram.