중앙데일리

The good and the bad of foreigners working at Korean firms

[Globalization of Jobs: Last in a five-part series]

Oct 15,2010
David James Biske / Ruomei Li / Steve Frawley

In recent years, the numbers of foreigners working at Korean companies has been growing as the 2008 global financial crisis has narrowed job opportunities in many advanced nations.

The global talent that has worked for several years in Korea say there are positive challenges as Korea is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, and there are great opportunities as many of the companies are advancing into the global market.

Foreign employees working in Korea mostly agree that one of the strengths of Korean companies is the work ethic and corporate commitment here.

“The Korean corporate environment in general promotes a very strong work ethic and employees tirelessly put in hours to support their companies,” said David James Biske, who has been working at GM Daewoo for six years and currently is the development director.

Biske said he joined GM Daewoo to experience life abroad while promoting his career development. But more importantly, he liked the challenge of working at the automaker just after it was acquired by GM in 2004.

Dana Lee, a Chinese woman who has been working at Hyundai Motor for the last five years, also praises the country’s work ethic.

“I believe that this is the reason for the country’s fast development,” Lee said. Lee studied at the Graduate School of International Studies at Sogang University before working at Hyundai.

“There are certainly differences between Korea and the U.S. that affect the work environment,” said Steve Frawley, the first non-Korean executive at SK Telecom. “The U.S. tends to place a greater focus on individualism versus collectivism in Korea.”

Frawley added that there is a stronger focus in Korean companies for maintaining harmony as compared to the U.S. where employees “confront and challenge each other in solving a problem or issue.”

Frawley, who is in charge of the human resource department of Korea’s largest telecommunication company, is also responsible for training employees and global recruitment.

But the foreigners say there are also negative factors that prevent more top quality global talent from joining Korea Inc.

“Although there are many positive aspects to the strong work ethic in Korea, it is also unsustainable over long periods and may ultimately cause lower effectiveness and higher chances for mistakes and accidents,” said Biske.

For Frawley, the biggest challenge in working in a Korean company is the language barrier.

“I do believe that in order to adjust to Korean life, it is advantageous to learn some language skills and certainly gain a good understanding of the culture,” Frawley said.

“There are lots of internal research and reports in Korean sent to me everyday, but I don’t feel as though I have any real access to this information,” Lee said. Due to the language barrier, “I sometimes feel as if there is a glass wall that prevents foreigners from getting on the inside, whether it would be people, information or authorities.”

Other barriers include the lack of infrastructure supporting foreigners and a homogenous culture that does not embrace diversity.

The role of global talents working at Korean companies here in Korea is rapidly growing as companies’ interest in talented workforce has gone up in recent years,” said Choi Kyung-sook, an HR Korea consultant partner. “However, the results will end in disaster if Korean companies only focus on recruiting talented workforce from abroad without failing to set up environment that would adhere to the need of such workers.”

Choi said many of the Korean companies still falls behind in its brand image that would attract top quality talents. Additionally Korean companies still rely on high job positions, salary and compensation in attracting top talents outside of Korea. “First companies need to raise the communication ability within the Korean employees and open to diverse culture that would help global talents more accepted in the Korean society,” Choi said. “Additionally other services other than the jobs that the global talents are hired for such as visa issuance, housing, medical services should be offered so that the loyalty of such talents is enhanced.”



By Lee Ho-jeong [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]



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