Reply to Helga’s post

COURSE: WORK AND LEARNING

FORUM: Current development and discourses on work and learning

TOPICS: P. BROWN, SKILL FORMATION, HUMAN CAPITAL, T. SCHULTZ

Reply to Helga’s post (link to forum)

Helga wrote: So maybe we should define what we understand by “human capital” – to my mind it is the education, experience, and skills accumulated by a person during a lifetime of learning

First, I do not necessarily agree on the choice of language. To me the term “capital” sounds like the very ill-fated framework we are so hard trying to change. It buys into the notion that long-term investment will eventually turn into profit, which is a dangerous and fallacious notion. If it is true that experience, education, and what have you make a difference in our ability to develop and exercise our professional talent, there could be a better way to define that without being limited by the language of economics.

Helga wrote: Some recruiters also seem to think that the current economic recession will be good for recruiting highly qualified staff to jobs in the Middle East, because as they lose their jobs in USA, they will be prepared to look further afield.

This issue would require a separate discussion beyond “skill development.” To me, it presents us with the question on why people from the West can almost unquestioned find employment in other countries, whereas the other way around is always and consistently considered an “immigration issue” at the very least, and now even a “homeland security” threat. (In the US, immigration, that includes temporary visas, study visas, etc, is now the domain of the department of homeland security).

Helga wrote: Another interesting statistic I came across was that Australians aged between 20-39 are the most highly educated group in our society, with one in 4 having a degree of some kind. That’s a lot of human capital out there! But not all those people are being employed in an area commensurate with their skills, particularly if they do not belong to the dominant cultural group.

I would add these questions and considerations. Just because someone has a degree, does that mean that that person is any better than those without a formal education? Is a person’s accumulation of formal credentials and education transcripts equivalent to “human capital”? (I am using this term as it was presented in the readings, not by my first choice). I see a lot of students that juts go through the system and acquire the “necessary credentials” that – according to theorists – will make up their human capital. As usual, the emphasis is on portfolio building, degrees, and grades. I look back and cannot fail to notice that many people in my father’s generation were very successful in their respective careers in spite of lack of what is now defined as “human capital.” Many people nowadays, whose credentials appear so much higher, would not be able to keep up with their much older counterparts. However, when faced with an HR selection process, today’s generation seems to have the “right evidence” that is now always a requirement even for entry positions. Thus, when we talk about human capital, are we talking about an individual’s path to self-actualization (I borrow this term from psychology), or are we just talking about the latest way to manage employers’ needs and staff selection policies?

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