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Phillip Brown

Professor Phillip Brown

Distinguished Research Professor

School of Social Sciences


  • Distinguished Research Professor.
  • Programme Director, Digital Futures of Work.
    An international research programme on reimagining jobs, skills and education for a digital age (2019-2023).
  • Chair of the Independent Review of Digital Innovation for the Economy and Future of Work In Wales (Final Report September 2019). Download
  • Fellow, Academy of Social Sciences (FAcSS).
  • Fellow, Learned Society of Wales (FLSW).
  • Council of Management, National Institute of Economic and Social Research, Westminster, London. (NIESR)
  • Eighteen books (6 published by Oxford University Press and over 120 academic articles and reports).
  • He has given keynote presentation in over 20 countries, including World Bank in Washington, International Labour Office in Geneva, European Commission in Brussels.
  • Previously Visiting Professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada; Sciences Po in Paris: University of Turku, Finland and Zhengzhou University, China.
  • Currently Visiting Professor at the Centre for Skills, Performance and Productivity Research, Institute for Adult Learning/Singapore University of Social Sciences,  Singapore.





































Book sections





Current Research Interests:

Research Director - Digital Futures of Work
An international research programme on reimagining jobs, skills and education for a digital age (2019-2023).

How will digital technologies, including automation and artificial intelligence transform the future of work? To what extent are we heading towards a jobless future with smart machines replacing a range of occupations including retail workers, teachers, and market traders? Or, are we on the verge of a jobs revolution offering new opportunities to transform our skills and working lives, create new human-centred business models, and deliver a shared prosperity?

These contrasting scenarios of the future of work offer vastly contradictory options on how the fourth industrial revolution should be managed and facilitated. Our observation is that there is an urgent need for a systematic analysis or evaluation of exactly how digital technologies will impact on skills, jobs and the wider economy by 2030 and beyond to guide societal actions. This is the goal of our three-year research programme (2019-2023) that seeks to develop the conceptual lens, tools and methodologies to interpret the fourth industrial revolution to support strategic choices that societal actors can make towards human augmentation, social inclusion and shared prosperity.

A global team of 20 researchers from the UK, Singapore, Denmark and Vietnam, together with research affiliates in China, Finland, Germany, Japan and North America, is conducting a systematic analysis across different national contexts using a range of methods and data, including ‘big data’. The Programme is funded by SkillsFuture Singapore, in collaboration with Cardiff University and the Institute for Adult Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Rethinking Human Capital Theory

The Death of Human Capital? Its Failed Promise and How To Renew It in an Age of Disruption, Phillip Brown, Hugh Lauder and Sin Yi Cheung, New York: Oxford University Press. Oct. 2020, pp.320.
Sample Chapter - Winners and Losers: 

This book with Hugh Lauder and Sin Yi Cheung is a major re-analysis of human capital theory which remains one of the most important concepts in economics and in international policy debates. In Theodore W. Schultz’s Presidential Address to the American Economic Association (1960), proclaimed that human capital would revolutionize capitalism and the fate of emerging and developed nations. He told his audience that labour should no longer be treated as a factor of production like land, machines or factories, as investment in education was the key to improving individual life-chances, productivity and economic growth. Gary Becker later declared that we live in the ‘age of human capital’. Globally, trillions of dollars continue to be spent on education and training by governments, companies, families and students, in the belief that it will deliver economic growth, higher productivity and individual prosperity. At the same time it is estimated that student debt in the United States alone has reached a staggering $1.2 trillion.

It may seem surprising to talk about the death of human capital at a time of unprecedented global expansion of education and rapid advances in digital technologies. We are not arguing that human labour is less important or asserting the end of work in a world in which robots will take over.  The book will describe how we have reached a structural tipping point where education and the labour market no longer work in the way they've done in the past. It describes how the human capital equation of ‘learning equals earning’ doesn’t add up, and offers a revisionist history of human capital theory, explaining why its early popularity was based on a ‘happy accident’ and why Schultz’s human capital revolution has contributed to a ‘revolt of the elites’.   In outlining a new theory we begin by explaining why the term ‘human capital’ should not be abandoned but redefined. By turning human capital into a contested concept we wish to inject new life into policy and scholarly debate in the fourth industrial revolution.

To achieve this we re-examine the role of human beings and their relationship to capital. Our definition of human capital seeks to re-capture a wider understanding of education. We also argue that a new human capital is required to address today’s challenges presented by global competition, new technologies and economic inequalities, reigniting longstanding debates about the historical role of education, the future of work, and the role of job markets. In conclusion we argue that the race between education and technology is not one of training more people for high-tech jobs as proposed by Goldin and Katz, but rather a race to reimagine education, work and the labour market in a fundamentally different economic and social world.

List of Contents: 1. Introduction; Part One - The Rise of Human Capital 2. Humans as Capital; 3. The High Tide; Part Two - The Failed Promise of Human Capital 4. Learning Isn’t Earning; 5. Winners and Losers; 6. The Mirage of Opportunity; 7. The Failed Promise of Development; 8. The Great Reversal Part Three - Human Capital in the Twenty-First Century 9. The New Human Capital; 10. Rethinking Labor Supply; 11. Rethinking Job Demand; 12. Rethinking Rate of Return; and 13. Conclusion: A Race against Time.

Digital Disruption, Talent Management and Elite Employability: Corporate and International Policy Perspectives in China, India and Singapore.

This project builds on earlier research on the transformation of the global division of labour and related research on the sociology of talent. It is a comparative study of how Western and Asian transnational companies in China, India and Singapore, define talent and understand the future of talent management. It raises key questions about the future of education and social mobility; skills, employment and social stratification; human resource management; the global auction for high skilled work; employability, labour markets and organizational careers; as well as wider questions about government policy, social inclusion and economic justice. Questions, that have assumed added urgency in a context of technological, political and global disruption, highlighting the need for innovative ideas about talent and talent management for individuals, education, companies and the wider society.

Over sixty interviews have been conducted with senior corporate managers and executives across four sectors - Financial Services; Biomedical; Infocomm, and Professional Services - using semi-structured face-to-face interviews. To gain a better understanding of how corporate talent management is understood and ‘managed’ by employees firms define as ‘high potential’ talent, we also conducted a further 70 face-to-face interviews. Where possible this includes interviews with employees within the same companies in at least two of the three countries. The fieldwork started early 2016 is was completed in April 2017. We are currently analysing the finding and will be publishing our result in the near future. This project is funded by the Centre for Skills, Performance and Productivity, Singapore Institute for Adult Learning/Skills Future Agency.

A new project is now being conducted on alternative approaches to talent management.

General Areas of Research Interest

  • Rethinking the 'Fourth' Industrial Revolution
  • Skills, Technology and the Future of Work
  • Sociology of Talent and Global Talent Markets
  • Education, Social Stratification and the Prospects for Social Mobility
  • Positional Competition and Social Congestion Theory
  • The Next Global Division of Labour


I was brought up in a small town near Oxford, England. I left school with little to show for twelve years of education before starting working life as a craft apprentice at the British Leyland car factory in Cowley, Oxford. The experience of factory life drove me to take-up evening classes where I was first introduced to Sociology. This sparked a lifelong interest in the changing relationship between education, economy and society which I've been lucky enough to study in a number of countries for over thirty years. Why is it that the promise of education, jobs and rewards has not materialised for many people? How are we going to create free, fair and fulfilling livelihoods for all rather than a few in a context of egregious inequalities, combined with the prospect of AI and smart machines?  Arguably, The Global Auction: The Broken Promises of Education, Jobs and Incomes (2011), was the first book to truly grasp the implication of economic globalisation for the jobs of middle class Americans and Europeans. The Death of Human Capital? Its Failed Promise And How To Renew It In An Age of Disruption (2020), takes the argument a step forward in explaining why we need a new human capital based on a different view of education, work and rewards. 

I'm a Distinguished Research Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University where I've worked since 1997. Before that I worked at the University of Cambridge and University of Kent at Canterbury. I've been a Visiting Professor at UBC in Vancouver and Science Po in Paris and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Zhengzhou University, China. I've been fortunate enough to give presentations in over twenty countries and to Chair an Independent Review for the Welsh Government examining the impact of digital innovation for the economy and the future of work in Wales, UK (2019). I'm also a Trustee of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), Westminster, London. My current research involves heading up a seven-country research programme examining the digital futures of work, education and skills, in collaboration with the Research and Innovation Division, Institute of Adult Learning, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).

Honours and awards

Follow of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. 

Chair of the Brown Review (2019) Welsh Government. 

Professional memberships

  • Plenary speaker at academic and professional conferences across Europe, Asia and North America;
  • Advisor to governments on skill formation and international best practice for workforce development;
  • Advisor to private and public sector organisations on the future of work, skills and the knowledge economy; the global labour market; employability, recruitment, and the management of talent.


Current supervision

Miaomiao Jia

Miaomiao Jia

Graduate Tutor