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Problems of human capital development when employing migrant workers

Xinlei Sha (Faculty of Human Social and Political Science, Centre for Gender Studies, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Bill Taylor (Department of Public Policy, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong)

Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management

ISSN: 2040-8005

Article publication date: 24 October 2018

Issue publication date: 10 December 2019

253

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to investigate how human capital of rural migrant workers is regulated and manipulated at ten petrol stations in one Chinese coastal city. The research is based on ethnographic research with participatory observation at forecourts and interviews with managers and workers. This paper argues that human capital development is inhibited by patterns of discrimination, such as in the treatment of rural migrants in China’s coastal urban areas. Instead, human capital is developed as migrant workers learn to resist management rules by relying on social capital networks. This requires management to confront or acquits some control to workers, which itself may benefit employers in certain circumstances. There has been a tendency towards analysing non-financial capital in positivist frameworks within human resource management (HRM), in which human capital and social capital are seen in terms of their contribution to profits. There has also been a tendency within Chinese HRM to sometimes understand social networks in normative cultural terms, in which Chinese identities as being or seeking harmonies.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper, based on a qualitative research, shows that a more nuanced approach may be needed, one that understands tensions and countervailing forces. The research is based on ethnographic research with intensive participatory observation at forecourts and interviews with managers and workers.

Findings

The way human capital can be developed to restrict management prerogative, though this may benefit employer’s interests.

Originality/value

There has been a tendency towards analysing non-financial capital in positivist frameworks within HRM, in which human capital and social capital are seen in terms of their contribution to profits. There has also been a tendency within Chinese HRM to sometimes understand social networks in normative cultural terms, in which Chinese identities as being or seeking harmonies. This paper shows a more nuanced approach may be needed, one that understands tensions and countervailing forces.

Keywords

Citation

Sha, X. and Taylor, B. (2019), "Problems of human capital development when employing migrant workers", Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management, Vol. 10 No. 1/2, pp. 35-48. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCHRM-07-2017-0016

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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