25/02/2015 11:17 GMT | Updated 25/04/2015 06:59 BST

It's Time to Teach Networking in Schools and Universities


photo by Nathalie Olivia Jabbar

The recent anti-networking crusade in the newspapers and business press is nothing new.

A few years ago there was a big outcry in the newspapers against patronage as politicians' children were seen to benefit from attractive internships. The newspapers' response was to call for an end to all nepotism and internships to be offered on the basis of potential and ability only.

A laudable sentiment and one I can applaud in principle. I'm a great believer in meritocracy. However, I'm afraid that the quest was a vain one and never likely to succeed and the call to stop such activities soon died down.

I believed at the time, and still do, in a different approach. Rather than trying to end a practice that is all-pervasive, not just for students but throughout most people's careers, why not enable everyone, irrespective of their social background, to build networks who will open doors for them?

I have met a number of people from less than privileged backgrounds, who have achieved amazing things in their careers at a young age. They have done so through a combination of entrepreneurial spirit, hunger, drive and the ability to develop relationships with people who are happy to support them.

Yet networking is still left off the syllabus at our schools and universities. I gave a talk to 40 undergraduate students from the Netherlands recently. Speaking to them before the presentations, very few of them were aware of networking, other than perhaps as some concept that they had been told would be important to them. My presentation was the first experience for many of the concepts I shared.

In my experience this tends to be the case in many countries. Young students start meeting people who would be happy to help them to develop their careers from an early age, yet aren't taught the value of, or given the confidence to, maintain those contacts going forward.

Kevin Kelly, of EZ Referral and EZ Connect in New York, told me, "When I taught at a 'diverse' high school I asked the students if they could create a lists of their 'Assets' they possessed that would help them to become independent.

"They listed physical strength, education, training, even the limited savings some had from working jobs.

"When I asked them about their personal networks and what they were worth they drew a complete blank. But when I asked them how many people did they know had gotten jobs, had gone on to schools etc. because they had known someone who helped them, they all got it."

Isn't it time that we realised the real value and true benefit of networking for young people and taught it in a positive light from a much earlier age? Rather than railing against the unfairness of people being given a helping hand, let's give everyone the knowledge and understanding they need to find that help for themselves.

Schools and universities can take a positive lead in this by organising their own networking activities and bringing local businesses in to engage with students. And networking groups could throw open their doors and welcome students to their meetings.

Let's encourage students to connect with people they meet from diverse backgrounds and different interests. Let's stress the importance of finding mentors and sponsors who will ease the path ahead of them and of keeping those people engaged in their progress and vested in their success.

Most importantly, let's show young people, irrespective of their background, that it's possibly to reach out and connect with business leaders and to change their future by asking for help.

Networks do not have to be the preserve of the privileged.