skills, and the like. When the perceived importance of role-specific social skills diminished, the need for structured opportunities devoted to imparting these skills evaporated, and the finishing schools disappeared.
But it may be time to reconsider the importance of social capital in general and social training in particular. Since the 1980s, researchers have penned countless reports and articles bemoaning the poor performance of recent high school graduates in the workplace (e.g., see National Commission for Excellence in Education, 1983; Gorman, 1988; Carnevale et al., 1988; Aerospace Education Foundation, 1989). Although the problem is commonly attributed to a lack of academic skills, recent evidence suggests it may be at least partly social in nature. Employers surveyed about their hiring preferences consistently rank a good attitude and the ability to adapt to work environments as more important than educational credentials (Barton, 1990). Many also report difficulty in finding young people who exhibit a desirable mix of behaviors and attitudes (Barton, 1990; Committee for Economic Development, 1984). It is hardly surprising, then, that employers are far more likely to dismiss employees for difficulties in adapting to the work environment than for failure to learn job skills (National Association of Manufacturers, 1990; Committee for Economic Development, 1991; Cappelli, 1995). This evidence has prompted at least one researcher to ask if the so-called skills gap is due to a deficit of prosocial attitudes and behaviors (see Cappelli, 1995).
It is important to consider this possibility, for if the skills gap can be partly attributed to a lack of social skills, simply reinforcing basic literacy and numeracy will be insufficient to improve the work performance of high school graduates. This essay takes up the idea that the poor performance of recent high school graduates may indeed be partly social in nature. However, I argue that the problem is rooted not only in a lack of generally useful attitudes and behaviors like responsibility and punctuality, as Cappelli (1995) suggests, but also in a deficit of the occupationally specific social skills and knowledge needed to thrive in today's workplace—precisely the type of social capital once imparted by finishing schools. But what is social capital, and why is it in short supply?
All social groups possess a set of cultural rules and norms that guide the behavior of members. Persons who aspire to membership must learn to identify and comply with those rules (Gerholm, 1990). Social capital consists of the skills and knowledge required to evaluate and respond to situational demands in social settings. It provides individuals with the ability to ''fit in" or gain acceptance to social groups over time by appreciating the cultural rules and norms governing any given situation and adapting their behavior to comply with those rules. This ability is critical because individuals who experience difficulty in perceiving and adapting to cultural rules risk being labeled outsiders. As a rule, those who hold