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The New Challenge for Workforce Development

In times of social distancing, it should be clear that young people still need a helping hand. Millions of youth and young adults rely on informal, natural connections as their introduction to the world of work. Stories abound of young people securing jobs through random encounters at malls, conferences, and even sporting events. Moreover, when young people gather, information is shared. Picking up a friend from work could result in learning about an opening a few stores away.

COVID-19 is limiting young peoples' opportunities to connect. Without these opportunities, there is little that can keep young people from falling between the cracks of an economy crumbling under their feet. By taking away a form of opportunity access, many youth will emerge from this pandemic worse than when they went into it. But social distancing doesn’t have to lead to disconnection; it’s time for the workforce leadership to step up and get informed about the decisions that can make or break young people’s chances of building social capital and the future economic opportunities that come with it. Workforce Development cares – workforce development programs' resilience in this pandemic shows us that. At its finest, Workforce Development is committed to ensuring the welfare and safety of every young person. Thousands of programs have gone virtual and agency partnerships are solidifying faster than water in an icebox. But is that enough? With so much time at home, the time is ripe to connect young people to the wealth of social capital assets within their community. Right now, workforce systems are scrambling for ideas on how to connect to youth and overlooking the challenge of how to connect youth to others. Workforce development should not rely on teaching young people how to put in applications online, but to build connections inline, assess their social capital connections, and turn those assets into opportunities to earn and learn. As one with thirty-five years of youth workforce development experience under my belt, I know young people are brimming with connections to gainfully employed family members, former teachers, and others who can help them on their journey. Family and friends rank first in connecting young people to employment, workforce development programs come third. In cities nationwide, what youth know isn’t as powerful an indicator of long-term success as who they know. A social capital approach can revolutionize workforce development at a time when young people need it most. Through such a framework, workforce programs can invest in helping young people identify and connect to their own internal assets to access information and guidance on how to build the essential skills necessary for future workforce success. Staying home doesn’t mean staying still. The world is spinning, life is moving forward, and as they come of age in uncharted waters, our youth must adapt to survive. Through a social capital approach, young people develop a greater sense of attachment and belonging to the world of work by connecting them to an adult who can help them dive on in. In these distant times, they need it more than ever – and workforce development programs can be the first to give them a hand. -Edward DeJesus is the President of DeJesus Solutions and the founder of the Social Capital Builders. To learn more, please visit

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