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Was It Your Skill or Social Capital Levels That Helped You Get Your Current Job?

In workforce development, there are generally two types of placements: direct and indirect. A direct placement is one where the program places a participant directly in a job. An indirect placement is one where the participant places themselves. The actual number of indirect placements in unknown (estimates range from 30-70%) and there is little debate about what constitutes a successful workforce program. Program success is mainly determined by entered employment rates irrespective of how a client actually gets a job.

While few would discount the impact programs with elevated levels of indirect placements (and not the intention of this article), it does raise important questions about efficacy and equity. The answers to these questions could ultimately lead to improved economic opportunities for jobseekers and a quicker dismantling of the opportunity gap as we know it.

“They didn’t get me a job. I got the job on my own!” is a sentiment echoed by many workforce program participants as they reveal their dissatisfaction with the programs’ ability to directly place them on a job. Sentiments such as this unfairly discount the programs’ impact of the person’s ability to find and secure work. Workforce services impacts a client’s ability to place themselves on a job in many ways- increased interviewing skills, giving them a polished resume, or providing a skill set so they never have to set foot in a workforce center again – could all be driving factors that enables clients to find work on their own.

Or maybe not.

Indirect placements can be a testament to the social capital already possessed by clients and totally missed by workforce system. It may indicate a lack of understanding and appreciation of the positive assets and supports that are already available to the population served and the potential of developing those assets.

There are millions of unskilled individuals with the right social capital connections being ushered into occupations and millions who have the skills but who are being left out.

Indirectly, workforce development participation may interfere with a person’s engagement or expansion of their economic opportunity networks, given that they become reliant on the program for help and not invest time and effort in connecting with supports as much as their successful non-programmatic peers do (opportunity costs). Without an understanding of the importance and value of social capital, many workforce programs may be unconsciously helping clients lose an important economic asset – the social capital that connects the majority of Americans to jobs and careers

People who do not participate in workforce programs get jobs through their natural labor market connections. The unskilled white teenager whose best friend’s father offers him an apprentice plumbing position is one example. While workforce participants are training, others are out there making connections and gaining the essential and actionable labor market information that comes with art of connecting.

Addressing the skills-gap will do little to build social capital but building social capital building will do everything to address the skills-gap. Having social capital with the person who has mastered the skill improves the likelihood that you’ll master the skill too. It also triples your chances of putting the skill to work because the person who helped you develop the skill also knows how to open industry locks. The successful program must do both.

In the end, any type of economic equity initiative must address the issue of social capital development. The solution to improve economic opportunities and equity cannot rest solely on skill building or any other human capital strategy. Helping jobseekers build strong social captial relationships with key industry stakeholders is just as, or even more, important than skill building. Was it your skill or social capital level that helped you get your current job or contract? I would really like to know.

Edward DeJesus is the author of Workforce and Summer Job Success and the Founder of Social Capital Builders. On January 11, 2022 Social Capital Builders will be releasing findings from their national social capital literacy survey. Sign up to receive the invite.