Jobs and Human Capital


In West Virginia, the one thing we can all agree upon, despite our political views, is the need for jobs. We hear candidates for office call upon us to support their efforts to add to the workforce locally in every election at every level. We worry that friends and family members will have to leave our beloved Mountain State because they won’t be able to find worthwhile, lasting employment.
We all know people who live out-of-state because they cannot support themselves and their families here. I began wondering about the human element in attracting jobs. I dove into economic theory, not one of my strengths, and discovered that there are as few as three basic components in job creation.
There is money or capital investment. We hear our local politicians talk about this a lot. They tell us that no one will invest money here unless they are given concessions, like tax breaks or other legislative commitments.
The second is equipment; the facility, and goods or services produced must yield a profit for the investor. That is what business is all about.
However, none of this is going to work without “human capital,” the skill sets and efforts that people bring to the business. The term “human capital” is controversial. It has been around since the early part of the twentieth century, but it came into greater usage during the latter half when it became a backbone of the “Chicago School” of economics.
In this view, human capital is similar to the investments that businesspeople make in terms of property, equipment and supplies. If one invests wisely in improved human capital through training, one will be rewarded with greater profitability, just as they would with better facilities or raw materials.
Another theory which attempts to justify the difference in employee wages as more than just the grooming of human capital is “signaling.”
This says that employee training is merely a signal to the employer that this is a worker who is capable of doing higher levels of work, and it does not include other human factors like character or the ability to collaborate with others in the workplace. I am sure we can all recall someone who was highly educated and intelligent but who was unable to function in the “real world” of work.
I have always felt that West Virginia is a great source of human capital. Our people are deeply committed to their families, their faith, and our land. There are many underemployed individuals in West Virginia who stay because of their ties to this place we call home.
If an employer wants to have the best in human capital, I would argue that they can find great opportunity in North Central West Virginia. We have people of great character right here, who would respond so favorably to a chance to earn a fair wage with the kind of benefits that few of us enjoy currently. An employer who offered daycare and insurance would be a real calling card.
Qualified West Virginians from the surrounding area and those who have relocated would apply for and become valued employees if such an employer were available. And the employers I seek would offer long-term jobs, not transient ones which hire and fire at periodic intervals in our West Virginia “boom-and-bust economy.”
In return, these employers would improve our human capital. They would train our workforce to be more educated, more reliable, more proactive in seeking the kind of stance towards employment enjoyed by others in more dynamic business climates. It is truly a win-win situation.

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