Born to be a boss? Those up high say it helped to start lowAs of June, the youth unemployment rate was 8 percent, up 0.2 percentage points from last year’s rate, according to the National Statistical Office.
The high unemployment rate for Korean youth is not so surprising ― college graduates complain bitterly of the difficulty of finding work and say companies aren’t creating enough new openings. Yet business owners say it’s hard to find good workers when they do conduct hiring.
According to a recent report by the National Statistical Office, it takes an average of 12 months for those ages 15 to 29 to find a job, but that job lasts only 21 months ― the worker usually quits, citing dissatisfaction with the working conditions. Why? More than 40 percent say the pay is too low and the working hours too long, about 10 percent say they see no future in the job, and 7 percent say the job isn’t right for them, while the remainder cite personal reasons for quitting their first job.
The report also showed that the number of youths with no work experience at all rose to 9 percent of the age group this year from 8.3 percent last year.
But doesn’t everyone start with a uncomfortable, trifling and timewasting job? How about the heads of leading companies? Did they start out being a boss? The JoongAng Daily asked four leaders from different fields to talk about their first jobs.
Cho Hyun-jung, the chairman of BIT Computer and the head of the Korea Venture Business Association, was one of the first Koreans to venture into the business of information technology, which he ran from a hotel room when he was a college student. His first job, however, was in 1971, after he dropped out of middle school to help his family, whose financial state had steadily worsened since his father passed away when he was six.
He worked at an electronic goods repair shop in central Seoul, where he could learn about new technologies. He was paid 3,000 won ($3) a month, while a boy who helped run a neighboring shop received more than 7,000 won. “I didn’t mind [the low pay], because I learned a lot about technology there,” Mr. Cho said, mainly by looking over the shoulders of engineers and sifting through broken goods.
He was known as the best young engineer in town. The compliments made him want to be a better engineer and continue studying.
Mr. Cho said that his software company needs more workers, but he won’t hire unqualified people. “We don’t have time to train new workers,” he said.
“In the digital era, if you’re not a one, you’re zero,” he said. “If you can’t be a one in your chosen field, you should find a job where you can be one, or make yourself competent enough to reach the level.”
“I clearly remember the date of my first day on the job,” said Shim Jay-hyuk, the president of Hanmoo Development Co., which owns COEX and the Grand InterContinental Hotel, both in southern Seoul.
It was Jan. 3, 1972, when he started his career at Honam Oil, then GS Caltex. Only a week before his first day, the Daehyeongak Building, in which the company was located, caught fire.
“The first task I was given was to restore the documents that were lost during the fire,” Mr. Shim said. “There were no computers at that time, meaning that we didn’t have back-up files. That meant I had to visit every single bank and company that had a copy of the documents and reproduce them.”
The work itself was simple ― just copy the documents. “But since I was reproducing old documents, I could learn about the kind of work I’d be doing in the future,” he said.
His first monthly paycheck was 40,500 won ― not much at a time when a bowl of black-bean noodles cost 500 won.
He said that being hired doesn’t mean you can stop developing your skills. In his case, he went on to earn a certificate in trade-related English.
Mr. Shim said success depends on four essential values ― creativity, foreign language ability, compatibility within an organization and modesty.
“I think the young people these days are very smart and have a lot of potential,” he said. “But they seem to lack patience and the value of modesty.”
“I learned nearly everything I know now from my first job,” said Son Eul-rae, chairman of Audi Korea.
Mr. Son started his career at a trade company, Misung, in the early 1970s. His first job was to get export and import licenses from banks ― in those days, companies had to have the licenses to trade products. That meant he lived in front of a typewriter preparing documents all day.
“In the office, there was a female typist around my age who did all the paperwork for the workers,” recalled Mr. Son. As soon as he entered the company, when he asked the typist to do his document, she refused. He got angry, but had no choice but to do it himself. Being a slow typist, and having no delete key, he had to type everything over again if he made an error. He typically stayed in the office until 10 to 11 p.m., while he had to come to work earlier than anyone in the office to finish the documents. “These days, it’s not that late, but at that time, there was national curfew at midnight,” he said. A few months later, when he was better at typing, the typist came over and said that she would do it for him, explaining that she had waited until he learned how, for his sake.
“I want to tell the young job seekers to do every little thing as well as possible. Work on whatever task you’ve been given and make it happen. That’s the way to succeed,” said Mr. Son.
Sohn Jie-ae started as a reporter at an English-language newspaper in college, then worked part-time at Business Korea, a monthly magazine, in her senior year. She was a spell-checker at the magazine for six months ― her only tools were a dictionary and a marker.
After she graduated, she was hired by the magazine, but still as a mere spell-checker for the first few months. Her additional role was as a “filler,” filling any leftover space on a page with small stories. Those stories were mainly based on bland press releases, but “I felt it was a great honor even being allowed to use the typewriter,” she said, laughing.
At the magazine, there were a few female workers, mostly high school graduates who cleaned the office, served tea to guests and managed the books. Ms. Sohn was “invited” to wipe the desks of the reporters every morning. As a reporter, she could have refused. “In order to have a comfortable relationship with them, I thought I had to wipe the desks. But I didn’t want other reporters to see me doing that, so I came to the office at six in the morning, wiped the desks and then read newspapers,” Ms. Sohn said.
“I think when you’re young, you shouldn’t mind painful jobs. You might think it’s wasting your time right now, but in the end, it will help you.”
by Park Sung-ha