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Building Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers, Developed by JFF Labe June 2022

University of Phoenix leadership joins JFF Horizons conference as collaborative insights on social capital for Black Americans is launched

By Sharla Hooper

Dr. Kimberly Underwood discussed findings and strategy indicated by the market scan collaboration

Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D., MBA, chair, Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR) with the University of Phoenix College of Doctoral Studies, joined the proceedings of the JFF Horizons conference taking place June 7-8, 2022, in New Orleans, LA.  Jobs for the Future (JFF), a national nonprofit driving transformation in the American workforce and education systems, earlier this year announced a partnership with University of Phoenix Career Institute® to support Black learners and workers in building professional social capital to advance their careers.

Professional social capital, which refers to the resources that arise from a person’s network of relationships that can help mobilize and advance education and career goals, is a crucial element in establishing racial economic equity in the workforce. With funding from University of Phoenix, JFF conducted an in-depth market scan, analyzing existing strategies for the development of professional social capital that are being implemented by community-based organizations, postsecondary institutions, non-profits, and employers. 

Underwood and Michael Collins, vice president, JFF, presented the findings of this collaborative project,  titled, “Building Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers,” in a related conference panel discussion on the explicit, strategic, and comprehensive professional social capital building strategies that can be ingrained into all education and workplace settings—especially in those settings that strive to break down barriers and accelerate opportunities for Black learners and workers.

“Strong professional networks are often the bedrock of success, providing workers with connections and resources that help them prepare for, enter, and succeed in well-paid careers that offer opportunities for economic advancement. These networks are particularly important—and often out of reach—for Black learners and workers, who are underrepresented in many high-wage, high-growth occupations,” states Collins. “JFF’s insights clearly identify effective action-oriented strategies that can be adopted within our education and workforce systems to create the conditions needed for equitable economic advancement.”

The report identified five key action and engagement-centered strategies that the most innovative social capital development programs must incorporate to build professional social capital for Black learners and workers: elevating current assets, building relationships, making connections and introductions, career onboarding, and continuous learning journey. 

“If we are to fully honor our overarching mission to prepare productive, skilled workers for today’s workforce, post-secondary institutions have the responsibility of not just providing the educational components but also the social components necessary to be successful in today’s workplace,” states Underwood. “Practitioner-based programming is one way to achieve this goal, as these programs are often taught by faculty with extensive, hands-on experience within the workforce. Therefore, students have the opportunity to gain an understanding of the social skills necessary to navigate within their respective industries.”

Horizons is an event intended to build community and collaboration for education and workplace systems, offering attendees from across the U.S. the opportunity to reconnect, reimagine, and rebuild in pursuit of equitable economic advancement for all.

Learn more about the JFF Horizons conference here.

About University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix is continually innovating to help working adults enhance their careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, and Career Services for Life® help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit