02/14/2013 04:07 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2013

How Networking Links Disadvantaged Youth to Steady Employment

My first job, as a sixteen-year-old high school kid, was as a cashier in a hardware store. The store owner was a client of my dad's law practice which I'm certain helped with my hiring. My guess is that many of us have a similar story line throughout our work experience. Someone knew someone that lead to a job. And numerous research efforts support it indicating that between 60-80 percent of jobs are found through personal relationships.

In this day and age the power of networking couldn't be more evident. Social media tools like LinkedIn make it possible to network while we are busy driving our kids to school or finishing up that big report for the boss. According to Duncan Mathison, an outplacement executive and co-author of the 2009 book Unlock the Hidden Job Market, around 50 percent of positions are currently filled on an informal basis, meaning the vast majority of job openings are never advertised.

So what happens if you don't have a professional network? Although this may be a foreign concept to the 187 million members LinkedIn reported in November 2012, for an unemployed young person this is a significant barrier to finding employment.

At a time when employment remains an issue of great concern across the country, how does a disadvantaged young person compete with the attorney's daughter? Coupled with the growing disparity between minimum and living wage jobs, it quickly becomes evident how difficult it is for today's disadvantaged young adults to compete for even an entry level job.

Community based organizations, such as Taller San Jose, have become critical resources for bridging the employment gap for young adults from the nation's most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Taller San Jose is an innovative organization that empowers young people to walk themselves out of poverty by providing job training and life skills necessary to find employment at a living wage. In 2012, Taller San Jose helped 209 young adults enter the workforce at an average wage of over $11.00 per hour, in large part through its established network of employer partners.

The young men and women served by Taller San Jose's programs face significant obstacles to securing employment. Despite these barriers, most are eager to seize the opportunity to become productive citizens, yet they lack the necessary connections to make that a viable opportunity.

At age 22, Carlos was ready for a new start. He had dropped out of high school and spent most of his teen years in and out of jail. The lack of a high school diploma and his criminal background made it hard for Carlos to find work. "I couldn't get the chance I needed to start over," says Carlos.

Finally, a friend told him about Taller San Jose and Carlos realized that this was the second chance he was looking for. Over the course of his job training program, Carlos gathered his transcripts, enrolled in night classes, and finished his last high school credits. He was the first in his family to receive a high school diploma. He felt a surge in confidence. Instructors noticed he was a natural leader and team player. "When I was ready to change, Taller San Jose was there for me. Now it's was up to me to keep growing."

After he finished his training, Taller San Jose connected Carlos to a position with a local home building company. Supervisors from the building company had been involved with Taller San Jose for more than ten years. When it came to hiring, they relied on this personal relationship with Taller San Jose's staff to identify candidates with the right skill set for their job site. Without the benefit of a well established network, the likelihood of a young person like Carlos -- with no work experience and a criminal record -- securing a similar position is significantly impacted.

Using Taller San Jose's network of local employers, as Carlos did, is a powerful tool to solving the job crisis for the disadvantaged youth people while meeting the needs of local industry. It's a win-win situation. Over time, Carlos will build his own professional contacts and replace Taller San Jose's with his own. In the meantime, Taller San Jose will serve as a critical stand in helping young people like Carlos find steady employment.

To support the 300 young people Taller San Jose serves each year please visit our CrowdRise page and consider making a gift.