It's not always what you know, what's your network?

LinkedIn has partnered with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator and the US-based Research Triangle Institute to unpack this perhaps counter-intuitive question. Education and workforce development approaches have long assumed solutions that require ever increasing investments in training and skills. But what if just telling a young person where to look for a job is all that was really needed?

Many traditional barriers to employment have been well documented – poor quality schooling, limited financial resources to search for work, prohibitive transport costs, all of this compounded by structural inequality.

Less understood is the power of networks. Research conducted over the last three decades finds that more than half of all jobs are found through informal contacts. First-time work seekers from underemployed households and communities are disadvantaged by this critical lack of knowledge of the labour market – things like where jobs are, what the requirements are to get the job, and what opportunities may exist to progress. Since they do not have many professional contacts when they enter the labour market, these young people are less likely to have the information channels and networks to successfully navigate their way.

LinkedIn, the world’s largest professional social network, allows its 300 million registered members to establish and document networks of people they know and trust professionally, and has the potential to provide young work-seekers with valuable access to networks and work opportunities. The goal of this research initiative to test the effectiveness of LinkedIn participation on the behaviour, knowledge, attitudes and career outcomes of young work-seekers. We will assess whether a low-cost curriculum that introduces LinkedIn to young people at Harambee can provide usable and effective labour market information, strengthen the signal of the young person’s capabilities, generate productive professional networks, and enhance career advancement and progression opportunities that will be tracked over a longer period of time.

LinkedIn will provide its unique algorithms paired with the analytic horsepower of the Research Triangle Institute (they have over 800 statisticians!) to begin documenting the impact on employment of strengthening professional networks. This is one of a number of research initiatiaves Harambee currently has underway – other academic research partners include Stellenbosch University, Oxford University, Cambridge University, Duke University, the University of Johannesburg, and the World Bank. Watch this space!