[NOTEBOOK]Hard Reality Bites a 'Feeble Generation'

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[NOTEBOOK]Hard Reality Bites a 'Feeble Generation'

Unemployment among university graduates is now extremely serious. Though the jobless rate for the entire population is not high, for university graduates it is the worst ever. The number of applicants for every open position at large companies is well over 200. A recruitment information Internet site displays the story of a university graduate who failed to find a job after applying to more than 100 companies. The story is titled "The 100th Proposal."

The unemployment problem has led to a number of newly coined words. The university students who graduated immediately after the financial crisis began at the end of 1997 were called "the Lost Generation." Lately college students have begun talking of a "Feeble Generation." The students created the expression to describe the hopelessness of their job search.

Not long ago, an economic research institute plausibly explained the Feeble Generation in terms of demographics. It classified the young adults now entering workplaces as a third baby-boom generation. They were born between 1979 and 1986 and now are between the end of middle school and the end of college. The two prior baby booms were born between 1955 and 1963, and between 1968 and 1976. During all three periods birth rates were high. After 1986, the rate dropped as low as 1.4 percent.

The fact that the university graduates who belong to the third baby-boom group are having unusual employment difficulties is not just because there are so many of them. The ratio of high school students entering college remained at 35 percent until 1992, but shot up to more than 60 percent in 1998 and 70 percent this year. The high birth rate combined with the high rate of college entrance naturally lead to the worst-ever employment prospects.

Moreover, the job market is turning against the third generation. Large companies have begun to hire only small numbers of necessary people, departing from the traditional large-scale public recruitment. Large companies prefer experienced employees to new employees. These phenomena are expected to persist unless there are special economic circumstances in Korea or abroad.

Even students who studiously underwent job-oriented career preparations, including receiving professional licenses and entering business schools, are feeling overwhelmed this year. As the scarcity value of certified public accountant licenses and tax-accountant licenses is gone, these licenses no longer guarantee jobs. Degrees no longer play an important role, as hundreds of people with master's degrees in economics or business recently applied for 15 openings at a financial institution and only 4 of them were hired.

Just like this, the students who belong to the third baby-boom generation are categorized as the Feeble Generation because of the high rate of college entrance and weak job market. A real problem is that the Feeble Generation's suffering may not end so easily. A high level of economic growth, which would provide jobs even for people who have been unemployed for quite some time, may not return for the time being. Even if the rate of high school students entering colleges stays the same, the third generation's suffering may continue for a while.

The Feeble Generation should take this reality cool-headedly. They should also adapt wisely. Most of all, they should be ready to lower their expectations. If entering large companies is difficult now, they should decisively turn to healthy small and midsize companies. Experience from working in small and midsize companies can be a stepping stone to large firms. They should also aim at their first jobs by developing their potentials and survival techniques.

A human-resource officer at a university in the Seoul metropolitan area described this reality by referring to Thomas Malthus, a British economist who wrote, "An Essay on the Principle of Population." Companies are hiring only small number of people compared to the large number of students searching for occupations. Where in the past, 16 applicants may have competed for 5 openings, now 32 people compete for 6. With fierce competition in the job market, put forth your strength, Feeble Generation. Not everything is your fault.


The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo

by Lee Kyu-youn

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