Phillip Brown: Skills formation in the 21st century


FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning


Brown: Skills formation in the 21st century (link to Itslearning)

Let me start with a quick summary of what I found most interesting in this article. Brown rejects the linear model put forth by Human Capital theorists and proposes a model based on a “new political economy of skill formation.” Such model would include what he calls “societal capacity,” i.e. the result of a process of skill formation that would combine both individual and collective dimensions. (Brown, p. 14) Brown goes on defining his model as one that recognizes personal motivation, the ability to “learn how to learn,” and the importance of a holistic approach that would encompass economics, politics, and issues pertaining to globalization and to the labor market. His article makes several references to how issues of social justice and poverty should inform policy, criticizes what he calls “the myth of the global labour market,” and questions the end of the role played by nation states, as it has been suggested by Hutton and Giddens. For Brown, national societies play a vital role in determining policies of skill formation at the local level that would take into account many interacting factors. Here are my comments. In this article (but also in Schultz’s), I found no criticism of the premises of our current capitalistic society with regard to economic growth and the idea of ever-expanding income opportunities. Whatever the model, be it Schultz’s model based on Human Capital Theory, or Brown’s model for a more political and holistic kind of skill formation, I cannot seem to find an innovative approach to economics that would consider for example issues of limited resources, sustainable development, population growth, intercultural societies, and smaller-scale economies. Instead, whether that happens with or without the active participation of nation states, both articles seem to focus on ways to manage the current system without asking the hard questions that I believe are necessary at this point in our history. In my opinion, in this article, Brown appears to be open to inclusion of social issues into the formulation of his model, but his ideas are – in spite of the title of the article – still trapped in dynamics typical of 20th century discourses.

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