When it comes to educational and career success, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of relationships.

No one succeeds alone, and doors to opportunity are not opened solely by academic achievement. Social capital — the benefits and opportunities that stem from personal networks and connections — matters tremendously for success in higher education and careers. But as with more traditional forms of capital, many are not able to access and leverage social capital.

Systemic barriers in the nation’s education and employment systems contribute to these inequities and are especially pronounced for people of color and those without a college degree. Considering that upward of three-fourths of jobs are filled through networking, the importance of helping students from all backgrounds develop robust connections and making sure they know how to use them is clear. Addressing inequities in economic opportunity requires addressing network inequities — and that work must start long before a student begins to consider entering the workplace.

Education Strategy Group and the Siemens Foundation are embarking on a new partnership to build upon existing research on the importance of social capital development for students. This new initiative will support teams in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Pinellas County, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; San Diego; and Tacoma, Washington, as they work to build relationship and network development into the heart of the educational pathways they offer to students — their future workforces.

To take their work to the next level, each of these communities will make social capital a core piece of their student preparation strategies, with a particular focus on STEM fields. K-12 districts will take the lead, supported by local colleges and universities, businesses and other community partners in a collective effort to expand, diversify and mobilize the networks of underrepresented students to better position them for well-paying entry-level STEM employment.

Though the specifics in each location will differ and evolve over time, some of the key strategies communities will explore to help students build robust networks include:

  • Teaching networking skills within career pathways. 
  • Reimagining the possibilities of work-based learning.
  • Expanding opportunities for near-peer mentoring. 

Read the full article about building social capital by David Etzwiler and Matt Gandal at The 74.