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Findings Series 9 - Employability and social networks

Date: March 2008
Category: Briefing Paper
Author: GCPH

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This paper describes a study of whether the social networks of those far from the labour market might be a contributing factor in continuing unemployment or under-employment in particular geographical areas of high unemployment.

The Full Employment Areas Initiative (FEA) employs outreach workers known as ‘community animators’ to act as mentors for those furthest from the labour market living in concentrated pockets of high unemployment in three areas of Glasgow. On the ground experience of the FEA indicated that social networks may be a contributing factor in continuing unemployment for this group and so this study explored this using qualitative methods and specifically aimed to:     

  • Evidence common expectations of and aspirations around work or non-work within social networks
  • Explore experiences of work within peoples' social networks to ascertain whether and how this can shape expectations of work at the individual and network level
  • Explore the nature of support provided by network members
  • Explore how work aspirations and the search for work intersects with areas of life such as peer group, housing, community, benefits, health and family.

Some of the key findings/recommendations made are:

  • Understanding issues of employability at the network level (families, communities, and neighbourhoods) can shed light on some of the barriers to employment that, despite the relative buoyancy of the local economy in recent years, continue to face many of those in areas characterised by high unemployment.
  • In areas characterised by high levels of worklessness, access to bridging capital (people in different sets of circumstances who can open up new possibilities) can be scarce, foreclosing the availability of options outside a limited range of low-paid, low-status positions with little career development potential.
  • Social networks provide important forms of self worth for those in insecure labour market positions. Roles in the 'core economy' enable people to maintain a sense of making a valued contribution, and can provide wellbeing and prestige in the absence of paid roles providing these.
  • The absence of satisfactory paid roles can arise from a combination of low educational qualifications and skills, local labour market conditions, an absence of links into new opportunities and, connectedly, low aspirations within networks. 
  • Current policies and strategies understand the place of ‘supply side’ factors (individual qualifications, skills and attributes) and the role of ‘demand side’ factors (labour markets). However, less is known about the motivations that underpin personal agency in relation to job-seeking and the role of inter-personal factors in areas of high unemployment, leading to certain individuals failing to seek or find sustained employment.
  • If strategies could be developed which take account of such factors they may be particularly adept at helping the substantial minority for whom policy attempts to get them into work and off benefits have failed to make an impact. If this is not achieved, this group will represent a significant brake on future growth in the city.