Social Capital Impacts Youth’s Exposure, Access to Economic Opportunities

“Social connections create a multi-layered safety-net that not only supports young people but helps them rise,” reads a Youth Capital consultation report.

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By Gaby Ndongo

The lack of social capital or connections of some South African youth partly contributes to the current rate of youth unemployment, which translates into two in ten young people (persons aged 24-35) not having a source of income, outlines a consultation report from Youth Capital.

When the advocacy campaign consulted 700 young people in the country during 2021, an overall of 95% said ‘connections’ were necessary for them to complete their studies or gain exposure to existing employment.

This is supported by the findings of a high-level overview report published in 2018 of almost 11,000 articles and 182 research papers about youth unemployment in South Africa. The National Research Foundation’s (NRF’s) summary of the report says: “Young people lack social networks which can help leverage information-gathering on the education, labour market, job availability, and job access.”

The other factors, as identified in the high-level overview report, are misalignment of aspirations and opportunities, increase in discouragement and mental health issues, geography and costs of work-seeking, as well as hiring preferences and behaviour of employers.

It further mentions labour market discrimination based on gender and the gendered nature of care expectations, lack of fundamental skills from education institutions, work experience, as well as information about career options, education, and employment opportunities.

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Vuyokazi Mdlungu, Jeremie Ndongo, and Mfanafuthi Bhara.

In the consultation report, Youth Capital – which advocates for youth-centred, evidence-based responses to youth unemployment – maps out the various types of ways for this group to establish, maintain, and develop social and economic connections.

Understanding social capital or connections. It consists of social relationships developed based on shared values, identity, and/or resources to attain common objectives. These relationships can provide a person with access to information, resources, and favours, for instance. 

A third-year student of accounting may borrow funds from a friend in the second-year accounting class to cover grocery cost in the meantime that he receives a living allowance from the parent/guardian or a state funding scheme. After this third-year student has graduated and worked for several years in commerce, he may recommend the second-year student for consulting opportunities through word of mouth.

“Social capital is a byproduct of one’s social networks and interpersonal relationships. Growing and strengthening these bonds among family, friends, and colleagues will help build your access to social capital,” writes Will Kenyon of Investopedia. 

Kenyon adds: “Socialising, keeping in touch with friends and family, attending networking events, and reaching out to old acquaintances are all useful strategies. Forming social networks that are diverse can also help you reach new and different types of people who may have new and different types of information.”

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Vuyokazi Mdlungu, Jeremie Ndongo, and Mfanafuthi Bhara.

Social capital has been divided into three categories: social ties/bonding social capital, bridging ties/bridging social capital, and linking ties/linking social capital. Social ties exist within a group of people who share similar attributes, interests, and/or goals that enable them to bond and develop close relationships. They are evident among family and community members, for instance. 

Bridging ties, on the other hand, are not found in a person’s immediate circle such as family and unfolds across groups among people with similar interests. Linking ties allow one to establish and maintain relationships with people from different social and economic standings, improving the possibility of upward social mobility.

An epitome is a friendship formed between a child from a less financially privileged background with a child from an upper middle-class family. The primary interest, in this case, may be their academic performances and/or hobby(ies). 

An individual can leverage the above relationships to enter, find a footing, and excel in the labour market. Those groups of people may submit referrals to employers on behalf of a young person, inform him/her/they of opportunities, serve the role of (informal) mentors, and/or lend funds needed for job-hunting as a result of the existing trust in the relationship.

According to data from the Siyakha Youth Assets for Employability Study conducted by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg, a young person incurs an average monthly cost of R938 when seeking for employment. The cost accommodates transport, data or internet usage, printing, certification, copying, postage, scanning, and application or agency fees.

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Vuyokazi Mdlungu, Jeremie Ndongo, and Mfanafuthi Bhara.

Exclusive social networks. “While social connections can create webs of inclusion that grow young people’s circles, link them to opportunities and resources, and keep them from falling through the cracks,” reads the consultation report, “they can also exclude young people, privileging the ‘insiders’ and leaving the ‘outsiders’ trapped on the margins.”

For youth staying in households where no one is employed, they are more likely not to have access to social networks serving as links to the labour market or pertinent information about the workplace. 

“A large proportion of youth not in employment, education or training … live in households where no one is employed,” says the NRF’s summary of the high-level overview report. This is in a context whereby the official unemployment rate was 33,9% in the second quarter of 2022, according to Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

The lack of adult employment leads to a decrease in the available financial resources needed for internet connectivity, which can be used to establish and maintain digital communities as well as identify employment and training opportunities. In particular, over 50% of young people reside in households with a per capita monthly income below R779, based on a technical report from Stats SA published in 2011.

Social environments or community hubs. Youth Capital’s consultation report further speaks about social environments or community hubs, which are settings where young people can cultivate social and economic connections, obtain information about opportunities, acquire resources, and gain access to the labour market. They include train stations, schools, clinics, community centres, and religious settings such as churches.

“Research and consultations with young people show us that social connections create a multi-layered safety-net that not only supports young people but helps them rise,” elaborates the consultation report. “As each of us journeys to our first quality job and a sustainable livelihood, we inevitably mobilise our social networks for access, information, support, and opportunity.” YC

Reviewed by Vuyokazi Mdlungu, Jeremie Ndongo, and Mfanafuthi Bhara. Feature image by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash.

1 comments on “Social Capital Impacts Youth’s Exposure, Access to Economic Opportunities”

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