Civil service selection to face major modification

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Civil service selection to face major modification

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The Korean government is devising a new way to hire civil servants in the hopes of gaining more variety and expertise in its workers -- in effect abolishing the exam system that has been in place for 60 years.

And, with the Ministry of Public Administration and Security announcing yesterday that up to 50 percent of middle-ranked fifth grade civil servants will be selected based on their specialties and not on test grades, Korea’s goshi, or examination, culture looks as if it will soon come to a close.

“It has been true that as our senior positions were filled with those who took the civil servant exam, competition within public posts has gone down and there was a limit to hiring specialists from a variety of fields,” Minister Maeng Hyung-kyu said during a press briefing yesterday.

The minister explained that President Lee Myung-bak in January had called for reform in hiring public servants and spoke of the need to increase competition.

The ministry said in a press release yesterday that up to 30 percent of fifth grade public servants, or 100 people, will be selected next year based on their credentials and on an interview process instead of several rounds of examinations with no interviews. New administrative fifth grade employees have been selected through the exam process with occasional shortages filled by special selections throughout the year.

“By implementing a tough interview process, we will exempt those who failed to pass the interview from the first and second round of exams should they try again,” said the minister. “We would also like to expand the hiring of regional specialist for diplomatic posts, such as those who are fluent in foreign languages like Arabic and appropriately correspond to various diplomatic needs.”

The “goshi” in the exam’s title will be changed to “open recruitment” to reduce its authoritative meaning. The government is looking toward choosing half of its fifth grade public servants without goshi by 2015.

Those with special certificates, qualifications, degrees or previous experience in a special field can all apply for fifth grade positions. In the case of applicants with volunteer work or special research, published books or patents, incentives will be given.

Korean public servants are ranked from first grade to ninth, first being the highest and ninth the lowest. Civil servants ranking from Grade 5 to Grade 1 are considered to be of a higher class than those below. Now, there are exams for grades five, seven and nine.

The hiring process for seventh grade civil servants is also set to change, with the ministry planning to introduce a system focusing on the applicant’s practical abilities along with the material on the exam. Also, more seventh grade civil servants will be hired from various regions through university recommendations. Fifty were hired through this system in 2009 and another 60 will be taken on this year. The number is expected to expand to 100 in 2012. Those who are recommended are then put on probation for a year until their employment.

Open hiring to the public for department head spots will also become available, with 5 percent of heads selected openly next year and up to 10 percent in 2013.

Private specialists will also be brought in to write exam questions, as well as those currently in the public civil system, according to the ministry; also, a national exam administrative institution will outsource the civil servant exams.

Analysts welcomed the idea, saying it was change for the good.

“Once civil servants pass the exam, they can stay still, do nothing and still live a life of authority,” said Professor Choi Bong-ki, who teaches at Keimyung University. “The goshi system should be abolished.”

However, the sentiment wasn’t so upbeat in regions packed with cram schools, or hagwons, full of people preparing for tests that have become even more competitive, due to the smaller number set to be selected from the written exam.

“As hard as it is to pass the exam, there’s not much else you can do while preparing,” said a student, Cho Dong-hyeon, 28. “Many of the students preparing do not have an edge in the job market and are at a disadvantage. Now the only thing to do is to pass [the exam] quickly,” he said.

“How will [the government] guarantee the fairness of the entrance process if they’re going to get rid of the written exam?”Bang Se-jin, 24, wondered.

Cram schools fear student numbers will drop in the coming months, bringing a change to the goshi neighborhoods famous for students holed up in tiny apartments, studying.

“We will open public hearings, gather opinions and complete polishing the amendment by the end of the year,” said the administrative minister. “We hope if public servant hiring becomes diverse in this way, the civil structure will become flexible and diverse people nationwide will be put to use.”


By Christine Kim, Kim Hyo-eun [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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