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Globalisation After the Recession: Corporate Strategies, Industrial Activism and the Future of Skills


Phillip Brown, SOCSI, Cardiff University and Hugh Lauder, School of Education, University of Bath.

Much of our thinking about the global knowledge-based economy is based on a set of assumptions that have recently been called into question. Firstly, the global recession sparked by the financial crisis in the United States and Britain challenged the idea of a knowledge-driven economy delivering prosperity and social justice. Secondly, the idea that Britain could become a ‘magnet’ economy for high skilled, high waged jobs through investments in higher education has also been called into question as a result of the globalisation of high skills and the creation of a high skilled, low waged workforce in emerging economies.

In response to this recession the over-riding emphasis on supply side solutions has been questioned and the policy focus has been extended to include a more ‘active’ role for government in industrial policy. This is a topic at the heart of the ESRC’s research priorities and will require detailed comparative investigation over the next decade in order to learn from the industrial strategies developed in East Asia, North America and Continental Europe. A twelve month project is obviously limited in what it can contribute to this agenda but we are well placed to advance the current state of knowledge as it will build on a major three year project also funded by the ESRC.

The previous study focused on thirty leading transnational companies (TNCs) operating in seven countries including China and India. The study shows how skills have become of greater strategic importance not only because of the demand for ‘knowledge’ workers, but due to the rapid growth of high skilled workers in emerging economies which offer transnational companies the potential to create global skill webs the full length of the value chain.

We also conducted interviews with senior policy advisors responsible for economic development and inward investment in Britain, China, Germany, India, Korea, Singapore and the United States. This analysis showed how China and India, in albeit different ways, have invested in education and exploited the latest technologies to enter the global competition for high skilled, value added products and services.

This follow-up study aims to assess the impact of the Western financial crisis on national skill formation and corporate HR strategies. If the British government is to take a more ‘active’ role in industrial policy it will be essential to achieve a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges the skill strategies of transnational companies pose to existing models of national skill formation, along with those being developed in other countries.

The project includes a number of follow-up interviews and a new quantitative analysis of secondary sources investigating international trends in education, employment and income. This will add significant value to our existing research because the development of global skill webs remain at an early stage of development and it is important to understand the impact of the global downturn on these strategies. For example, will efforts to reduce costs lead to a greater use of offshoring high skilled work (both for heavily indebted public sectors and for companies) or will organisations find other forms of cost reduction through the use of new technologies or reduced head count? It will also give us an opportunity to assess differences in national responses to the global downturn as governments attempt to respond to increasing competition for high skilled as well as low skilled work on a global scale. Therefore, a major focus is to achieve a better understanding of globalisation and the future of work.

Aims of Project

  • If high skills are being globalized, what is the future source of competitive advantage for companies and countries?
  • To assess the future of a neo-liberalism/free market model of free trade, human capital and flexible job markets that have defined the competitive approach of American and British business. In short, what do responses to the Western financial crisis tell us about the future of global capitalism?
  • To study the impact of the global downturn on corporate strategies, esp. HR/skill strategies (global skill webs). To what extent have companies become ‘disembedded’ from national systems?
  • To assess the prospects for the global economy and social justice. Including what is being done to address income inequalities/skill polarisation.
  • To assess the impact of global economic recession on corporate strategies and national competitiveness/skill formation. What strategies are being used to create the foundations for stronger companies and national economies over the next decade?


Background Publications

2010 The Global Auction: The Broken Promises of Education, Jobs and Rewards, Brown, P., Lauder, H. and Ashton, D.,  New York: Oxford University Press, pp.224.

2010 ‘Skill Webs and International Human Resource Management: Lessons from a Study of the Global Skill Strategies of Transnational Companies’, International Human Resource Management, Ashton, D., Brown, P. and Lauder, H. 

2010 Skills Are Not Enough: The Globalisation of Knowledge and the Future UK Economy, Praxis Issue No.4, United Kingdom Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), pp.36

2009 ‘Economic Globalisation, Skill Formation and the Consequences for Higher Education’, in M.W.Apple, S.Ball and L.A.Gandin (Eds.) The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education, London: Routledge. Lauder, H. and Brown, P. 

2009 ‘Globalization, International Education, and the Formation of a Transnational Class?, in F.Rizvi and T.Popkewitz (Eds.) Globalization and the Study of Education, Yearbook of the National Soceity for the Study  of Education, (NSSE), Chicago: Blackwell. Brown, P. and Lauder, H.

2009 Developing a Theory of Skill for Global HR, in P.Sparrow (Ed.) Handbook of International Human Resource Management, Chichester: John Wiley. pp.321-339. Ashton, D., Brown, P. and Lauder, H.

2009 Education, Meritocracy and the Global War for Talent, Journal of Education Policy, 24,4,377-92, Brown, P. and Tannock, S.

2008 Globalisation, Skill Formation and the Varieties of Capitalism Approach, New Political Economy, 13,1,19-35. Lauder, H., Brown, P., and Ashton, D.

2008 Education, Globalisation and the Future of the Knowledge Economy, European Educational Research Journal, 7,2,131-56. Brown, P., Lauder, H. & Ashton, D.

2008 Education, Globalisation and the Knowledge Economy, A Commentary for the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP), pp.24. Brown, P., Lauder, H. and Ashton, D.

2006 ‘Globalisation, Knowledge and the Myth of the Magnet Economy’, Globalisation, Societies and Education 4, 1, pp. 25–57. Brown, P. and Lauder, H. Reprinted in H.Lauder, P.Brown, J.A.Dillabough, and A.H.Halsey (Eds.) Education, Globalization and Social Change, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 317-40.

2006 ‘The Opportunity Trap’, in H.Lauder, P.Brown, J.A.Dillabough, and A.H.Halsey (Eds.) Education, Globalization and Social Change, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 381-97. Brown, P.

2006 ‘The High Skills Thesis’ in  Kraak, A., Lauder, H., Brown, P. and Ashton, D., Debating High Skills and Joined Up Policy, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa, pp. 1-29. Lauder, H and Brown, P.

2001 High Skills: Globalization, Competitiveness and Skill Formation, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  H., pp.300. Brown, P., Green, A. and Lauder, H.

Additional Information

Oxford University Press USA

Oxford University Press UK