No diploma necessaryOne of the things Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates have in common is that neither one has a college diploma. That’s a good example showing that a college education is not always a requirement for one’s success. At a much publicized speech for Stanford University’s commencement ceremony in 2005, Jobs said that his decision to quit college was the best one in his life because it allowed him to do what he wanted to do and succeed.
In this country, however, it is really difficult to find such a success story among people without a college degree. Many of them have a hard enough time finding a job. That’s mainly due to the fact that we have an oversupply of college graduates as a result of the race to attain ever better academic backgrounds. As a result, companies now fill jobs once taken by high school graduates with college graduates. A typical case is the Korea Electric Power Corporation, which employed a number of technical school graduates in the past but almost stopped hiring them in 2000, when it started hiring college graduates. Some pundits argue that requiring companies to hire a certain number of high school graduates would be beneficial, just as the regional quota for college admissions provides bright high school students in the provinces with opportunities to go to high-ranking universities.
In that sense, it is very encouraging that the Korea East-West Power Company (KEPC) has announced an ambitious plan to fill 30 percent of its annual recruitments with high school graduates beginning this year. While this may seem like reverse discrimination, the company made its decision based on its opinion that high school grads would be denied opportunities to work for the company unless it changed its recruitment policy. When the number of firms employing similar policies increases, our excessive focus on college admissions will subside.
In countries like Finland, Denmark and France, there are many middle school students who go on to a vocational school, instead of attending a general high school, because it teaches many practical skills and graduates of these schools have high rates of employment. Taking a cue from those countries, Korea this year opened 21 “meister,” or vocational, schools across the country, but their success ultimately depends on companies’ deciding to hire the graduates of the schools. To help the schools succeed, we should experiment with linking schools and companies by letting students acquire the professional skills the companies really want and ensuring that their graduates will be hired later. If vocational school graduates fail to get the jobs they want, we will have a long way to go before we can achieve our aim: easing our troubling obsession with the college diploma.