중앙데일리

Latest wave of jobseekers heads to Japan

May 21,2006

Kim Byeong-kuk, left, has been working at a Japanese IT company near Tokyo for the last five months. [JoongAng Ilbo]

At a Japanese information technology company on the outskirts of Tokyo, Kim Byeong-kuk and 19 other Koreans make up almost half of the 50 programmers in the office.
The 32-year-old arrived in January as part of a growing exodus of Koreans seeking jobs in Japan because it has become difficult to find a good job in Korea.
Although Mr. Kim has a master’s degree in information management, he could only find management jobs at small and mid-sized companies with unsatisfying wages in Korea.
Mr. Kim began his quest for a job in Japan by attending special classes sponsored by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea, an organization that helps young Koreans find jobs overseas.
Thanks to government financial support of 4 million won ($4,227), Mr. Kim only paid 4 million won to learn computer skills and Japanese for 10 months.
In 2004, 61 Koreans landed jobs at Japanese IT firms through the service. The figure surged to 315 last year, and 160 in the first four months of this year.
For the next two to three years, 1,000 to 1,500 Koreans each year are expected to get information technology jobs in Japan, according to Chae Soo-yeon, a researcher at the Korea Association of Information and Telecommunication.
The demand for foreign workers in Japan is being driven by the recovering economy and a major national project called e-Japan. According to the Japanese government, the country will need 1.2 million IT workers with a middle or higher level of expertise to meet the needs of the project. However, Japan is short 420,000 IT workers.
The project, which was first announced in 2001, aims to establish the world’s fastest electronic commerce market by 2010. The Japanese government said that it would hire up to 50,000 workers from overseas. Koreans, Chinese and Indians are competing for the positions.
Masayo Nishimura, an official at TCI, a Japanese information technology company, said last month during a visit to Seoul that more jobs would be created in the industry since the IT service market in Japan is expected to exceed 11 trillion yen ($99 billion) in 2009.
This is not the first time that Koreans traveled abroad in droves to find jobs. In the 1960s ― a rough time for the Korean economy ― many miners and nurses traveled to West Germany for work. In the 1970s, many went to the Middle East to work on construction projects being carried out by Korean firms. But since 1982, the number of Koreans traveling overseas to find jobs has declined sharply, as the construction industry in the Middle East has worsened. Koreans only began looking abroad for jobs again after the 1997-1998 financial crisis.
As interest in working abroad grew, the government designed programs to help people find jobs overseas.
About 3,000 Koreans have found jobs at Japanese IT firms, according to Kim Do-yeon at iPark Tokyo, an agency set up by the Korea IT Industry Promotion Agency to help Korean IT companies and market enablers find high-value IT projects.
“Including those on tourist visas, we estimate that over 5,000 Koreans are working at Japanese IT companies,” said Mr. Kim.
Most of the Koreans are working at subcontractors that develop software and systems for major corporations. At first, the Korean employees start with simple tasks such as programming, said Mr. Kim. Since most work is at subcontractors, the employees are accustomed to programming languages such as Java.
Because Koreans are quick to adapt to any given environment, they are getting great reviews from the Japanese IT industry, according to Korean experts. However, experts say Koreans should not expect quick results since it takes a couple of years to settle successfully in Japan. To be recognized as a programmer, a person should work for at least five years starting with simple jobs.
Working at Japanese IT companies, however, is not always promising. Many have returned to Korea after finding it difficult to adjust. On an online community portal, some complain of being overloaded with work at Japanese IT companies.
Some advise that those who wish to work five days a week with regular hours should not go to Japan. Others say the wages are too low compared with Japanese consumer prices.
“There are several cases where Koreans return home after failing to adapt to life and work in Japan,” said Ms. Chae at the Korea Association of Information and Telecommunication. “The Korean training center should provide more information to those training for work at Japanese IT companies instead of just telling success stories,” she added.


by Special reporting team


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