Social capital is the combination of knowledge, resources and tools people use when building networks as they progress through life. Effective social capital allows people to easily form connections, find opportunities and be able to act on them. 

For this reason, social capital is a crucial element in the world of work – but building contacts and relationships is no easy feat. Having the right connections can make life much easier – but what happens when you don’t have these or the same opportunities to make them?

Minority students face a wave of barriers when entering the workplace and often don’t have the same foundation of professional networks as their peers. This puts them at a disadvantage in terms of industry exposure, knowledge and contacts. 

Career services are therefore an integral part of the student journey to support individuals in their progression to work. Yet, they’re not made a central enough part of students’ university experience. This is problematic, in particular because it disadvantages students that have yet to build industry knowledge and connections when they leave university. Although the primary reason for attending university is to make getting a job easier, career services are only utilised by about 40% of students. Variation in their design and implementation means those that could benefit most might not be using it. 

Enrolment in colleges fell 5.8% in the US between 2019 and 2021 according to the NCS Research Center, so it’s not surprising that 80% of students are concerned about finding work after they graduate. These worries are felt even more so by Black and Latinx students, and those of lower-income backgrounds. As minority groups grow as a proportion of society, it will be critical to focus on outreach that connects people directly to support services that develop individuals’ social capital. As such, greater investment in career skills, coaching and networking should be prioritised to increase students’ confidence and exposure to the job market.

Student career services must focus on building students’ social capital as a central part of their degree. This will be especially important for students who question the value of university – especially in an online setting. Concern rests on the practicalities of distance learning, the cost-benefit of tuition, and ultimately how well a course will prepare them for an evolving job market. 

On the flip-side of the issue of digital learning, more people have been able to take up online classes for coaching and recruitment. Online networking and job exploration has resultingly become more ingrained in employment processes, expanding the opportunities for those with low social capital to be found by employers. 

Going forward, educational institutions should make opportunities to grow social capital more accessible and better aligned to industry needs through enhanced connection to career services. 

Read more on Times Higher Education.