“It comes in waves,” said Isabelle Risse, a recent graduate from St. Michael’s, Vermont. Risse has applied for more than seventy jobs since graduating in May – with no positive results so far. “One week, I will send fifteen applications. And then the next one, I’m so desperate.
Risse is not alone. Nearly one in four workers aged 16 to 24 is unemployed, according to arecent studyby the Institute for Economic Policy. There is hope for young workers like Risse, but to avoid a career derailment and a lost generation, young job seekers and employers will need to focus more onconnection.
More than half of the workforce finds employment through personal connections. Decades of research have shown thatpeople who use their personal contacts spend less time looking for work and find themselves in better paid and more prestigious professions.Plus, while experienced workers are more likely to find their jobs through weaker ties – acquaintances, former colleagues, someone from the gym –this is not true for workers looking for their first real job.
Young workers are more likely to find employment thanks to their closest connections, especially their parents. This trend is accentuated during periods of heightened unemployment, according to research by economists Francis Kramarz and Oskar Nordström Skans.
Yet despite the importance of turning to people they know for help, young workers are less likely to use their personal contacts to look for work. Anationally representative studyof unemployed people according to the Urban Institute found that only 23.6% of 16-24 year olds looking for work contacted family or friends for help, far less than older workers in a job search. There are at least three reasons why.
Young people are often reluctant to network
Risse finally realized that if she wanted to find a job, she had to do more than look on websites like Indeed and Idealist, but after taking that notion into account, she says, she “was almost discouraged.” Likewise, Kaitlyn Zorilla, a 23-year-old living with her parents in Vista, Calif., Said that between COVID, the election and the holidays, “I’ve been reluctant to reach out to the people I know less. It’s just a burden to ask people for help now.
Young or not, many people have an aversion to the idea of “networking”. When 308 adults were asked to recall a time when they networked for business purposes or just to socialize, participants who recalled a professional networking experience were twice as likely as their Socializing counterparts to think about cleaning up words like “wash” when presented with a word completion exercise (like “w_sh”). The implication was that the pure idea of networking made them feel dirty, according toin the studyled by Tiziana Casciaro of the University of Toronto,Francesca Gino of Harvard,andMaryam Kouchakifrom Northwestern University. This difficult social moment that we are all going through probably intensifies our moral aversion.
According to the research trio, one way to overcome this is to adopt a learning mindset and think of reaching out as an opportunity togrow. Another is to think about making those links based on what you need togive. While the trio’s work suggests that less experienced workers often feel as though they have little to offer, asking for help gives someone else the opportunity to be of service and tap into their own sense of expertise, even mastery.
Youth networks have limited reach
But even when young professionals are able to overcome moral resistance, they face another challenge:Their networks often don’t have the reach they need. “You are alone,” said Veronica Wells, 24, who worked as a waitress before COVID. “I’ve been alone for a while, since I was 17. I have to create my own network. ”
Not surprisingly, the networks of young people and the unemployed are often filled with other people of the same age, also looking for a job. As Zorilla put it, “When all your other relationships are also unemployed 22 or 23 year olds, that doesn’t really help much.” Additionally, in a recent study, my colleagues Balazs Kovacs, Nicholas Caplan, Samuel Grob and I found that networks declined by over 17% during COVID – decreasing just when young workers needed it most.
The unemployment rate for those under 24 is double that of workers beyond that point, meaning that if we want to get the economy going, young workers need help. Unemployment “delays social and emotional learning and connectivity,” according to Marina Marmolejo, executive director of Dream Kit, an organization that helps under-housed youth find employment. “This means they don’t have people in their network who can help them take the next phase.”
Having a job allows you to better find a job
This is as true for recent college graduates as it is for those with low income and job insecurity. Many of the essential skills for getting a job and being successful in the workplace –the importance of listening, the power of knowing when to ask follow-up questions, the know-how to work in a team—Are learned through social interactionsat work. This is where young people also find more critical social connections. Mentors and sponsors are usually found at work.
The network failures young people face will have far-reaching effects that extend far beyond the pandemic if left unaddressed. Lisa Kahn, a professor at the University of Rochester, found that the economic consequences of graduating during a recession linger for more than 15 years, as young workers lack the opportunity to learn while they are ‘they work.
Reasons for hope
Despite the seemingly grim circumstances, Marmolejo is “really excited about the future. Young people who were unable to access the labor market can now access it through technology. Young potential employees are bored and desperate for the opportunity to contribute. “I have been sitting in my room all day, sitting in the same position in bed, looking at my closet door for eight months,” said. Zorilla. “I am ready to work as an office assistant now in a field that I am not passionate about, just because I need a job.”
For businesses struggling with working online, a vast untapped pool of digital natives should be seen as a huge opportunity. Having Zoom meeting planners and hosts, talents who know how to market and deliver customer service online, and those with the creative will to design smart online alternatives to holiday celebrations or customer mixers would improve businesses and give young workers the opportunity to engage and continue to develop. As Marmolejo argued, “There are opportunities to continue this cycle of learning. The virtual world is too accessible not to invite young people. “
To avoid the long-term negative consequences of unemployment for young workers, one must start by creating opportunities for connection. Young workers need an opportunity to meet people who can help them think about a career, not just give them a job. They need the chance to learn social skills essential to their careers. For those who are firmly entrenched in a job, young people also have a lot to teach employers – about the virtual world and the real world as they see it. Solving this massive, multidimensional problem begins with connection. If you are young and looking for work I highly recommend you seek help. If you are at the top of the career ladder, be prepared to offer it.
Marissa kingis Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, where she developed and teaches the course entitled Managing Strategic Networks. His book,Social chemistry: decoding patterns of human connection, comes out in january.Watch an interview with King here.
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