Students relish tasks at small firms

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Students relish tasks at small firms

College graduates facing the job market for their first time tend to suffer from reality shock when they see how it differs from the classroom. So it helps for them to take internships or summer jobs before they receive their diplomas.

Of course, most students prefer working for big, powerful companies. But plenty of small companies are looking for help -- and that's where many students find the most satisfaction.

While large corporations will assign students to menial tasks, like making copies or sending faxes, small firms often don't hesitate at putting them in more important posts.

The most valuable part of the experience? Students say it's not the money. It's discovering how hard it is to earn money, and learning to appreciate the sacrifices that their parents have made.

Among the 30 workers on an auto-parts production line at Samsan Aluminum Industrials is a face that looks considerably younger than his counterparts. Kim Sung-jin, 25, is an economics major at Honam University. He took a summer job with the Gwangju company, and is the only student working at the factory.

"Before I graduate, I want to get some experience in society," Mr. Kim says. "I thought it would be good to work at a factory to get a feeling for what' goes on in the manufacturing industry and what really happens on the production line."

Samsan Aluminum lacks manpower; it needs 10 more workers than it now has to run at full strength. The company's owner says Mr. Kim's help is much appreciated. "I just wish we had more people like him," says Kim Ki-ho, 53. "These days, young people tend to avoid the manufacturing sector."

Before taking the job at the factory, Kim Sung-jin had worked as a waiter in a coffee shop. He says the job was easier but not as satisfying as the production line in the factory. "It had air-conditioning and working there was fun," he says of the coffee shop. "But at the end of the day, there was very little benefit. Here it's different ?I feel like I'm really doing something."

Kim Sung-jin's father, Kim Seung-nam, has nothing but praise for his son. "This is definitely going to help him later on when he gets out into the real world," says the elder Mr. Kim, 58, who runs a pharmacy.

Down in the South Jeolla province coastal city of Mokpo, about 50 college students are busily skinning and canning fish at Samjin Corporation, a fish-processing company.

There is a serious shortage of manpower in medium- and small-sized business, notes one of the workers, Kim Mi-jin, 20, a sophomore at Mokpo National University. If college students say there aren't enough jobs for them, it's because they're only looking for comfortable jobs, she says.

Of course, jobs at smaller companies pay less than what college students expect to earn. And they're harder, too.

Ms. Kim stands for most of her 10-hour shift, and in two months has earned just 1.3 million won ($1,100). "I've learned how hard it is to earn money," she says. " I am not going to spend my money thoughtlessly like before. Those days are over."

A classmate, 20-year-old Park Su-ah, is skinning fish, one of the hardest jobs at the factory. "The working conditions at small companies are very bad," she notes. "The government should give them tax benefits or financial help to improve conditions so people are more willing to come and work here."

Another student, Kim Kwon-ho, 19, says the fish cannery is his first job, and that he chose it because of the physical labor it demands.

He loads crates of canned fish onto trucks. "I came here with two friends last month and we all got jobs," Kim Kwon-ho says. "But they quit after a week because they thought it was too tough. Now I know how hard my parents work to provide for our family."

Samjin Corporation's owner, Shin Jong-kwan, 57, says he feels confident about Korea's future when he sees the young college students like these at work.

"In school, students pay to learn. But here, they get paid to learn," says Oh Ho-chang, 43, the cannery's head of personnel. He adds that he hopes the students learn valuable lessons through their summer jobs.

Whenever Mr. Oh hires college students, he tells them to focus on the lessons about life that they can learn from the job rather than on the money they earn. The company, which needs several more workers than it currently has, is actively recruiting on college campuses. It has recently hired 85 students.

As a result, the Samjin Corporation says it will meet its production goals for next month's Chuseok holiday season. "It takes about 10 days for the college kids to adjust to our working environment, and it's during that period that our production falls," Mr. Oh says. "But after that initial period, their productivity exceeds our regular work crews."

by Koo Doo-Hwun

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