i Editor's Letter: Human capital? Or just people?


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The Independent Online


Follow that! Rhodri’s inventive column about clichés yesterday reminded me of the adage that you want everything to be OK when you’re away, but perhaps not so OK that your difference isn’t noted. Many thanks to Rhodri and the rest of the gang, i’s “human capital”.

What a phrase. According to the definition I am reading here, human capital is the “stock of competencies, knowledge, social and personality attributes (including creativity) embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic capital”. In a recent survey of business leaders, it was ranked way above “trust” as the No 1 concern for 2013. I really do want to believe this is actually the case, but…

In reality, human capital is the principal victim of the British recession. Cost-cutting short-termism is the kneejerk HR solution to hitting quarterly targets - no matter what line of business employers are in. Graduate and other training programmes were canned long ago; career development is a misty-eyed memory for many, replaced everywhere you can think of by temporary contracts for people with exactly the same skills, because they are actually the same people. All around us, the conundrum of falling unemployment figures while cuts are worsening in both public and private sectors reveals itself daily in the form of more part-time work for people who want and need full-time jobs.

Forget the terrible, divisive “strivers and shirkers”, let’s use more human terminology. Call humans “people” and suddenly human capital becomes people’s skills and takes on a much more profound, poignant meaning.