Research shows that four in ten young people between the ages of 15 and 24 live in households with no employed adult. This puts young people in a bind, as the connections we have can help us move along the transition to the world of work.
Personal experiences show us that 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. Just as job-seekers use connections to find employers, employers also use connections to find candidates. In South Africa, employers often rely on professional networks and past employees to find the right person for the job. 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; they can also exclude young people, privileging the ‘insiders’ and leaving the ‘outsiders’ trapped on the margins.
So how can we promote social connections for business impact?
In a recent LinkedIn Live, we asked Bentolina Nnandi (Head of Talent, MamaMoney), Kelebohile Ramoolla (Digital Transformation Consultant and Member of the Youth ExCo at Vodacom South Africa), and Nyimpini Mabunda (Chief Executive Officer at General Electric, Chairman of the US-South Africa Business Centre, and author of Take Charge) these challenging questions.
When discussing the importance of personal connections, Nympini shared his personal journey:
“Coming from a business family, I was introduced to the right people; the types of school I was able to go to also facilitated my youth years. The friend associations are very helpful – I studied at the University of Cape Town and by the time I had completed University, I was offered three jobs and started my corporate career at Procter & Gamble. At some point in my leadership journey, I owned five Nando’s franchises; that opportunity came from a chance meeting with the founder. From there, I moved to the UK through an existing relationship I had. I was helped by mentors and a personal board of directors, and I wanted to share my learnings with more people – this is why I decided to write my book, ‘Take Charge’, to be a bit like the uncle in a pocket.”
The role of exposure and mentorship.
Kelebohile reflected on the role that exposure plays in shaping young people’s access to resources. She shares that, “Exposure determines the conversations you find yourself in, as well as the people that you’re surrounded by. You only know what you have been exposed to, and because of that you don’t know what you don’t know”.
Bentolina recounted how her personal life shaped her keen interest and natural tendency for leadership. As she embarked on the leadership journey when she was only 22 years old, Bentolina highlighted the role of mentorship, “Direct and indirect mentors guided me and this is why I became so passionate about people and talent development. I said to myself, if someone can spend so much time nurturing me, why can’t I to the same for other people?”
Bentolina, Nyimpini and Kelebohile agreed on we have summarised some of the crucial insights from the discussion on social connections.
How to get started growing social connections.
Given the importance of widening connections for young people, how can we democratise access to social connections? The panellists shared the following three tips:
- Put yourself in the environment and situations where you can are likely to meet the right people meet. This means finding ways to get into places where the people you admire hang out, or key events where they are speakers.
- Sometimes you just got to ask, because if you don’t ask, you won’t get. Define a clear ask and don’t hold back – this means strategically think about how the specific person can assist you.
- Be aware of the value that you can provide in return. Your views and opinions matter, so be open with the person you reach how to. The model of reversed mentorship highlights how these relationships benefit both individuals.
- Once your contact provides access to their network, it’s important not to let them down.
- Being an extrovert is a learnt behaviour; regardless of one’s personal preferences, it’s essential that individuals make an effort, and take advantage of situations they are in. The same applies to people in leadership positions. Nyimpini said that “Leaders have the responsibility to give back and be accessible. Be conscious of the fact that you are where you are because of other people. Consciously think about it, and be intentional bout meeting people in your office”.
Watch the full conversation here.