John Woods Shares University of Phoenix’s Career Institute® and Workforce Research Insights at SHRM Conference

In June 2022, University of Phoenix participated in the annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference in New Orleans. At the event, John Woods, Ph.D., provost and chief academic officer of the University, presented the results of the workforce research that the University’s Career Institute® Career Optimism Index® study team conducted with Jobs for the Future (JFF).

JFF is a national nonprofit that drives the transformation of education systems and the workforce in the United States to achieve equitable economic advancement for all. Announced earlier this year, University of Phoenix and JFF’s partnership and a subsequent in-depth market scan have focused on helping Black learners and workers build professional social capital that can help advance careers and racial economic equity.

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What Is Professional Social Capital?

Professional social capital describes how an individual’s relationships and networks can provide resources that contribute to their professional goals. Professional social capital can take the form of strategies, insight and resources and offers access to the labor market, increases career opportunities and helps individuals build and strengthen professional connections. Though success in a well-paid career can provide opportunities for personal economic growth, professional social capital is an often-overlooked tool for advancing economic equity.

JFF Vice President Michael Collins has stated that strong professional networks are often “out of reach” for Black learners and workers, who often face disadvantages in education and the workplace through systemic racism and discriminatory practices. He added that they are often “underrepresented in many high-wage, high-growth occupations.”

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Professional social capital provides the key to unlocking opportunities for greater economic mobility for these groups. With funding from University of Phoenix, JFF conducted a market scan entitled “Building Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers” that mapped the commonalities and features of programs that helped Black learners and workers build professional social capital.

JFF’s research looked into a background of the history and context of professional social capital; an analysis of existing related strategies by post-secondary educational institutions, employers, community-based organizations, and nonprofits; and an assessment of emerging trends and opportunities for implementation. The scan particularly focused on education and workplace settings striving to break down barriers and accelerate opportunities for Black learners and workers.

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Five Key Strategies to Develop Professional Social Capital

During a talk at the SHRM conference on June 14, 2022, Woods discussed the insights from JFF’s research and the University’s Career Optimism Index®, which provides a greater understanding of the skills and opportunity gaps challenging American workers. JFF’s report identified five key strategies required for social capital development programs to build professional social capital for Black workers and learners.

1.     Elevating Current Assets

Through self-assessments and exercises in relationship building, programs elevate current assets by building professional social capital by focusing on participants’ strengths rather than what they might lack.

2.     Building Relationships

Programs that emphasize relationship building help learners and workers develop sustained relationships with supportive professionals through activities such as mentoring, sponsoring, coaching, training and peer cohort experiences.

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3.     Making Connections and Introductions

By facilitating connections and introductions, learners and workers can connect with individuals who can help them meet their specific, short-term needs though introductions could lead to long-term relationships. Programs might use activities such as informational interviews, employer introductions and networking to create those opportunities.

4.     Career Onboarding

This strategy seeks to connect learners and workers with the next successful step in their career journey, ensuring that they meet the individual’s financial, scheduling and support needs. Some career onboarding activities could include navigating and researching careers, intentional connection and onboarding to jobs and work-based learning, which is an approach to training that involves the completion of meaningful workplace tasks.

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5.     Continuous Learning Journey

Providing people with sustainable skills and strategies that they can rely on no matter where they are in their learning and career journey is integral to creating lasting growth in professional social capital. Programs could promote learning the value of continuous improvement, the importance of maintaining relationships and networks and the awareness of opportunities to act as a social capital resource for others.

Promoting Change in the Workforce

The market scan also highlighted key characteristics shared by ten “Innovators to Watch,” organizations that position professional social capital as a key pillar of the work and learning experiences they provide. These characteristics include being:

  • A nonprofit
  • Founded within the last 15 years
  • Founded or directed by a team with Black leaders

By offering employers the key information and action-oriented strategies that allow them to transform their workforce systems, Woods stated that organizations could “address both skills and opportunities gaps and create the necessary conditions for career trajectories and equitable economic advancement.”

Learn more about University of Phoenix’s contributions to the SHRM Conference.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is committed not only to advancing the educational goals of its adult and nontraditional learners but also to guiding students as they navigate the career options and degree programs that most suit their interests. The University offers degree programs that align with 300 in-demand career paths including roles in cybersecurity, nursing and business. Thanks to flexible start dates, online classes and a variety of scholarship opportunities, it’s possible for anyone to develop the skills and earn the degree they need to secure a particular career with University of Phoenix.

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For no additional charge, the University’s Career Services for Life® is a commitment to active students and graduates that provides the services and resources they need to be prepared when entering the workforce. These services and resources include career guidance, resume and interview support and education and networking opportunities. For more information, visit

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