Developing nationsKorea has made huge economic gains over the past three decades, and these days many people come here for their university studies.
And Korean conglomerates are increasingly recognizing how helping people, especially students from developing markets, come here to study can pay long-term dividends that don’t always show up on the bottom line.
On May 26, a letter bearing a Mongolian stamp was delivered to Cho Yang-ho, the president of Hanjin, a conglomerate whose subsidiaries include Korean Air.
The letter was written by one Mr. Demchigdorg, who recently attended a training program run by Hanjin that is part of a scholarship program for Mongolians.
Mr. Demchigdorg came to Korea in 1998 and received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Inha University in Incheon. Upon graduation he enrolled in a one-year training program with Korean Air, which he finished at the end of last year. Since 1998, together with the Mongolian Ministry of Education and the help of the Korean Embassy in Mongolia, five Mongolian students are chosen to be sent to Inha University every year and then receive firsthand experience at Korean Air.
The chosen students undergo a Korean language course at National University of Mongolia in the capital city Ulaan Bataar, and upon finishing the course come to Korea and take up their studies.
Scholarship programs such as Hanjin’s are usually aimed at helping developing countries groom future leaders in various industrial sectors, while at the same time creating a human network that can be used in the future in case companies decide to expand their business overseas.
Similarly, the SK Group, another Korean conglomerate, picks about 50 young scholars from the Asian region and invites them to research in Korea on any subject they are interested in. The program that started in 2000 has just selected its fourth class in March. Out of a pool of 114 applicants from six countries, the scholarship group selected 37 Chinese, 3 Mongolians and 4 Vietnamese, as well as several others from Asian countries.
Those selected will be provided an individual research office and will be offered field trips to cultural sites and industrial complexes. An official with SK said that although the company does not advertise this program, word of mouth keeps the applicants coming.
Korea Telecom also has a study and training program for foreigners, started in early 1993. So far, 1,892 people have graduated from its training course, while another 310 people are scheduled for this year.
Their training program takes two to three weeks, but already about 500 Vietnamese graduates have gone back to their home country after completing it and are currently trying to establish a broadband network there.
Samsung Electronics, Posco, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor Company have similar programs, inviting 50 to 300 foreigners annually to participate in company-sponsored training or research studies.
Hong Chang-ui, an official who works at the training academy of KT, says that trainees who have passed through the company’s program act as valuable information sources when the company is trying to enter the student’s country. “In the long run, the positive effect that comes from having the right people in the right place is very big,” Mr. Hong says.
Nevertheless, experts point out that some of these activities are often limited in scope, with companies inviting their foreign employees over to Korea for a simple tour and some meaningless seminars. Also the lack of continuity in most programs hurts the buildup of a human resource network and undermines the synergy effect.
An official with Hanjin stressed that in order to gain a foothold in other countries, a systematic approach by the government as well as the companies is needed. “The United States has its Fulbright scholarship program and, through it, it grooms a certain pool of U.S.-friendly future opinion leaders,” the official said. “That’s a good example from which we should build our own unique program.”
The official added that the East Asian region, South America and Eastern Europe should be targeted as many countries in those regions are still in the developing stage.
by Kim Chang-woo