Inequality negatively impacts communities and employers alike. Although many point to the “skills gap” there is another, better-hidden chasm that limits access to opportunity: a connection gap. After all, 50 percent of jobs come from a personal connection. Consider too the projection that companies will face a significant shortage of skilled workers in years to come. The bottom line is this: if education systems don’t start connecting students who are growing up without mentors, role models or well-connected family members, the economy will miss out – and so will society.

Approaching education reform from this perspective, Julia Freeland Fisher penned a profound new book that seeks to improve opportunities for education-seekers and businesses alike, by applying the theory of disruptive innovation to the mechanisms by which students forge relationships and networks. In “Who You Know: Unlocking Innovations That Expand Students’ Networks” (Jossey-Bass, August 2018), Fisher eloquently reframes the conversation on the future of education, and offers concrete tools, resources and examples of how technology can integrate social capital into K-12 education. She further shows businesses how to tap into hidden human resources and utilize undiscovered talent.

“A child’s network—his reservoir of social capital and ability to bank on that capital for support, advice, or opportunities down the line—remains largely determined by random luck: the luck of where children are born, whom their parents know, and whom they happen to end up sitting next to in class.” – Julia Freeland Fisher

Having been at the forefront of the evolution of EdTech, competency-based education and blended learning, Fisher argues the next frontier in education must be the application of technology to build students’ social capital – and making it an instrumental part of the K-12 learning process. Schools still function as insular communities, which limits students’ networks to those who share their geographic location and (usually) socioeconomic circumstances. But as every job applicant knows, personal connections matter enormously in securing employment. To that end, the business world must also be involved in building and cultivating these networks.

The advent of digital platforms linking individuals across the globe must be put to use in making networking a key part of education from the earliest possible age, says Fisher. Her free, online database mapping tools are an early step toward aggregating these various resources that promise to link students, parents and teachers to companies, subject matter experts, mentors and peers.

But the mere existence of social networking technology is not enough. Educators must understand the role social capital plays in children’s future outcomes and make it as much a focus of the classroom as teaching educational content. Fisher’s groundbreaking book – as well as her practical tools – offer a definitive first step toward achieving the K-12 education overhaul that the 21st century economy demands.

For more information on how your organization can make strides toward building students’ social capital, contact us.