[Letters] Saturated Korean job market

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[Letters] Saturated Korean job market

When a country decides that everyone should get a college degree, it also decides that everyone should have jobs that have the quality and wages that a college graduate would accept. In Korea, 89 percent of those born in 1982 or later have some form of college education or college degree. And they are expecting jobs that educated people usually do.

First, if we look at the Korean economy, agriculture represents 7.2 percent of the economy and industry 25.1 percent of the economy. This means that technically, today in Korea only 11 percent of the population without a college degree would accept to do 32.3 percent of the jobs. In turn, 89 percent of the population wants 67.6 percent of the service sector jobs. This is where competition kicks in.

All 67 percent of service sector jobs are not attracting Korea’s college educated population. Indeed, what college graduate would like to work in a hair salon or coffee shop for the rest of his life? This has several consequences. Koreans now prefer living in cities rather than in the countryside. No Korean wants to live on a farm or work in a factory. Most Koreans with college education don’t want low-paying service sector jobs.

This also means that getting a job has become very competitive. Back in 2000, they were promised that their college degree would get them a very decent job.

Employers today are telling Koreans that they need to get more degrees, more skills and more qualifications. Many Koreans get advanced university degrees, study abroad or take competitive professional exams, hoping that one day they will get a stable job.

All sorts of excuses are also being used by companies to explain to applicants why they are not being hired. While the unemployment rate in Korea may only be 4.1 percent, the employment satisfaction rate is very low. Many Koreans work in contract jobs where they are forced to leave after two years.

What I realized over the years is that Koreans are too dependent on employers to get jobs. The Korean government and education system should encourage and educate younger Koreans to set up their own businesses to counter academic inflation.

The Korean government also needs to legislate against unethical business practices that hurt small business in Korea. Another critical issue the Korean job market is facing is that Korean students are promised good jobs if they get advanced degrees. Once they get those advanced degrees, they are told that they are too old to enter the job market.

Finally, universities, the corporate world and the government should pay a role in facilitating contact between students, small businesses and larger companies. For the time being, the only way universities get involved in students’ job search is with professors asking students “so, how’s the job hunt going?”

In a country where connections are crucial to get a job, the Korean government should intervene to put a halt on nepotism and discrimination. Given the scale of the disaster and the Korean cultural tendency to discriminate against older people and women, the government should impose hiring based on standardized testing for most jobs, with no discrimination regarding age or other matters, to make sure that no one is unfairly excluded from the job market.


Akli Hadid, a former student in Korea now residing in Algeria
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