[Outlook]Training stops at graduation

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[Outlook]Training stops at graduation

As I live abroad, I often find myself comparing things between Korea and foreign countries. I also think about Korean youth compared with youths in other countries. Whenever I meet young Korean people, I feel confident that they are not worse than those in advanced countries.
An objective outlook indicates this, too. In a study comparing students’ academic performance in different countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korean teenagers are among the top students. Korea has the huge number of students studying in the United States.
But why is it very hard to catch up with advanced countries even though our youngsters are doing great? The answer is simple; their development stops after graduation.
In advanced societies that produce high-value-added goods and services, schooling is merely a starting point. How people are trained inside companies after graduation decides the future of the companies and society. For workers, it is important to make sure that they continue to grow and develop.
Grown-ups develop further through work. Education and training are meaningful only when they are related to their work. Three conditions are needed for grown-ups to grow through work.
First, they must be employed at decent workplaces on decent terms. Second, they must be given reasonable rights and responsibilities. Third, they must be able to develop their career over a lifetime.
In Korea, none these three characteristics are met. There is no need to point out the high unemployment rate among youths here.
Companies have become less generous with investment in employee training. Conglomerates reduce the number of new employees. These companies tend to think they buy trained people rather than train people.
Small- and medium-sized companies increase the number of new employees, but they invest very little to train them further. When comparing spending on training between companies of more than 1,000 workers and companies with less than 100, small Korean companies spend only one-eighth of what their large counterparts spend.
Meanwhile in Japan, large companies spend only 2.5 times more than small companies.
Even if one is employed despite very fierce competition, there are not sufficient conditions inside a company to grow further. Anybody who works or used to work in any type of organization knows that receiving training while working is more effective than receiving training or education outside the workplace. In this training, it is important to be given some independence and to work within one’s own discretion. When one takes responsibility for one’s work, one learns and grows more.
However, mainstream Korean corporate culture doesn’t appreciate this. Companies have a centralized system. For the sake of speed, workers are required to implement orders from upstairs as quickly as possible. In this corporate culture, it is hard to expect employees to be trained to be imaginative and creative.
What about developing one’s career over the course of a lifetime? In the United States, broadcast journalists get work experience in local networks in small towns before moving to large ones in big cities. In general, it is not very hard for someone who is working in a small company to get a job at a large company. But in Korea, it is the other way around. When people get fired from large companies, they move to smaller companies.
Even if one continues to work in the same workplace for a long time, it doesn’t mean that his career will bloom to the fullest. Unlike in Japan, people without college degrees or factory workers have little chance to advance to management.
Things are pretty much the same for office workers who have college degrees. If they work in conglomerates or companies that owners directly run, there is little chance that they will be promoted to managers or executives. In Korea, most salary-earners have to think about opening their own store or small businesses when they reach middle age.
We will never be able to catch up with advanced countries if our society’s way of employing and training persists.
The choices a person makes as a youth decide the rest of his life, and it is very difficult for youths to find employment. We need to change our focus from educating children to educating grown-ups.
Companies must be able to show that developing human resources leads to producing high-value-added goods and services. They need to create a new corporate culture where employees take part, instead of being told what to do.
For this, we all need to understand that investing in people is a company’s most important duty.

*The writer is a professor of economics at Saitama University, Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Woo Jong-won
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