[Viewpoint] An unhappy end to a short career

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[Viewpoint] An unhappy end to a short career

Nigel Marsh was once a well-known professional in the advertising industry.

He is originally from Britain and worked in Australia, where he was the CEO of Leo Burnett Australia, a multinational advertising agency.

While Marsh was serving as the CEO, the company had the honor of receiving the Agency of the Year Award twice. He also became famous as an expert who could bring turnarounds to companies that were in jeopardy.

Marsh was a very successful professional, but one day, he became jobless. He was fired when the company was acquired and merged with another agency.

It was when he was turning 40. Marsh lost his job even though he had to support his wife and four children. Although he had to go through a series of chaotic struggles, he finally had a great epiphany.

He wrote in his best-selling book, “Fat, Forty, Fired: One Man’s Frank, Funny and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life,” “I wanted them to know that sometimes it might be better to slow down and walk to places instead of being on a bus driven by someone else. You get to choose the route and you could end up learning more.”

Luckily, he found another job a year later. He became one of the founders of Earth Hour, a global environmental initiative to turn off non-essential lights and refrain from other electricity use for one hour every year.

Nigel Marsh’s story of getting over his predicament and finding a new life direction is refreshing and inspiring.

However, it’s hard to imagine such a story having a happy ending in Korea. Marsh’s successful career change would, simply put, be nearly impossible in Korea today. We are faced with a reality that does not allow “losers” another chance once they reach their 30s.

The Economically Active Population Survey published in April 2010 by the state-run Statistics Korea includes a figure that raises some concerns.

The number of employed persons in their 30s was 5,827,000, down by 5 percent, or 295,000 people, from 2005. During the same period, the number of employed persons in their 20s decreased by 12.6 percent, or 472,000 people.

Nevertheless, the number of employed people in their 40s and over increased. The decline in employment among the 20s was expected, and only 63.8 percent of this demographic group is economically active. That means that many of them are biding their time, waiting for better opportunities, and are not actively searching for jobs.

However, it is different for the thirtysomethings, because 93.4 percent of men in their 30s are economically active. Most of them are willing to work, but only 89 percent are employed.

Women in their 30s have another serious issue. Only 54.9 percent of them are economically active, lower than not only 63.3 percent of the women in their 20s but also those in their 40s (66.4 percent) and 50s (58.5 percent). Even when they are looking for jobs, only half of job hunters (53.4 percent) successfully find work.

There are various reasons behind the decline in employment of those in their 30s. Some of them are unemployed twentysomethings who grew older; others failed in their former workplaces.

For women, it is highly likely that they gave up having jobs because of the burden of child care.

The population in their 30s is a major root of the national economy. If the twentysomethings are the smaller, branching roots of the economic tree, the thirtysomethings are the main roots that support the tree.

When the main roots grow weak, the tree teeters. Therefore, the decline in the number of economically active persons in their 30s is a serious challenge for the country. There has to be a system that can support them and ensure they come back to work.

However, many companies still have age restrictions when recruiting new employees.

Recently, a survey was conducted of 236 people in charge of human resources at corporations, and 47 percent said that the company had an age limit and would not hire people over a certain age.

On average, the age limit was 30.5 for men and 28.4 for women.

Say you’re riding on a bus, but it ends up not going to your destination. You should be able to get off and take another bus. Companies need to offer a transfer pass to those who are seeking jobs and are willing to get on their buses.

*The writer is a deputy business editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Kim Jong-yoon
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