[VIEWPOINT]Industry Needs Youth; Youths Need JobsI interviewed Chung Se-yung, honorary chairman of Hyundai Development Co., last November.
The former head of Hyundai Motor Co., he spent 32 years of his life working with automobiles. He recounted two stories that he said had been learning experiences.
In August 1974, Hyundai Motor asked the public to write in with suggestions for the name of a prototype of its compact sedan, which was Korea's first locally developed vehicle.
"Arirang", "Doraji", and "Mugunghwa" － the first two of which are pure Korean words － were the top three most popular names among some 60,000 entries. About 100 entries suggested "Pony."
Thinking that young people would have a good sense of what was an appealing name for a new car model, Mr. Chung had about 10 female college students who were sorting the entries cast a ballot for the name they liked.
Most voted for Pony. "'Pony' it is!" Mr. Chung declared on the spot.
Twenty-one years later, the carmaker developed a new, bigger sedan, dubbed "Marcia." The task force unveiled a prototype with a rounded rear end design.
Rejecting the chief designer's explanation that it followed the latest trend, a disgruntled Mr. Chung yelled, "I know at first sight that's not what I want. Do it again!"
With that, 5 billion won ($3.9 million) of development costs went down the drain, and the team redesigned the vehicle so that it had the dignity of a sub-luxury sedan. However, the Marcia was a disaster in terms of sales.
The tycoon noted that it was a wise decision to name the 1974 vehicle "Pony" based on the students' opinions － and boasted that Pony taxicabs are still cruising the streets of Chile and Egypt.
He admitted that his judgement on the Marcia had been confounded by a generation gap and confessed that since that mistake, he had respected youths' opinions and tried not to interfere with them.
Young people invigorate organizations and stimulate their metabolism. Companies should employ the right recruits at the right time so that they can develop and grow smoothly without a generational hiatus.
A country, too, should make good use of the intellectual and physical vigor of its youth to expand national wealth and feed the children and the elderly.
Unfortunately, the going is tough for youth on this peninsula. Those who entered university around the mid-1990s are regarded as a generation of misfortune.
Female students who entered college in 1994 graduated from universities at the height of the devastating economic crisis. Many male students joined the military and others went to graduate schools to skirt the crisis.
Still, three years later, they are faced with rising unemployment.
Those who entered college in 1995 are desperate to land jobs this year because of the age limit set by many local businesses. Some have become parasites on their parents.
The worse youth unemployment gets, the less dynamic and productive society becomes.
Youth joblessness is also demonstrated by statistics.
According to the National Statistical Office, 283,000, or 6.5 percent, of youths aged between 20 and 29 were jobless as of the end of June, compared to the overall 3.3 percent unemployment rate in the country.
A recent study by the Korea Labor Institute paints a gloomier picture. The institute said about 334,000 youths were jobless at the end of last year.
But if you count "youths" as aged between 15 and 24, as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and include those who are excluded from the official jobless list because they have given up seeking jobs or have no job training, more than one million, or 12.2 percent of the total youth population, are unemployed.
The recent economic downturn is not the only problem. The crisis that began in late 1997 is still a sap on job opportunities.
Also, companies have changed the way they recruit employees, shifting their target from those fresh out of college to those with experience.
In addition to that, Korean universities are failing to supply the manpower that the market wants. The industrial map is changing, but colleges stick to old-fashioned disciplines.
If we are to rescue our youth from structural joblessness, we must change our education system and readjust university majors according to manpower demand by each industry and sector so that institutions of higher education can cultivate competitive human resources.
The writer is economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Jai-chan