[Viewpoint] Nurturing the risk-takers
A recent box-office hit in Korea is a comedy about a young Korean man so frustrated by his inability to find employment that he impersonates a migrant worker from Bhutan to land a job. The episodes were exaggerated to conjure laughter, but behind the comedy is a serious reflection of high unemployment among the young and the social injustices suffered by foreign migrant workers. The satirical comedy, despite a dearth of big-name stars, drew more than 500,000 viewers in its first two weeks of release.
Authorities say the job situation is improving. But according to February data from the National Statistical Office, the unemployment rate hit 4.9 percent, with joblessness among the young topping 10 percent for the first time in a decade. The official number of young people without jobs is 1.2 million, but the reality must be even more grave.
With so few jobs available, many college graduates are opting to start their own businesses. An online job information poll in August showed that 92 percent of college students would like to start their own business if circumstances allowed. In a survey by the European Union Executive Committee in June, Koreans preferring to run their own business rather than seeking employment reached 51 percent, compared with 45 percent in the EU. But only 23 percent of Koreans believed they could start a business within five years, below the 28 percent recorded in the EU. Young Koreans are high in entrepreneurial spirit, but insecure about pursuing their dreams due to various limitations.
A self-employed enterprise is run by one person who acts as both head and employee of the company. A freelancer can be a productive member of society when he or she generates profit through a creative application of intelligence, experience and skills. Entrepreneurial ventures are active in information and technology, culture and entertainment, and manufacturing (such as traditional health foods, arts or crafts).
The Small and Medium Business Administration promotes such activities through counseling, mentoring and financial assistance services. The Science and Technology Policy Institute in a recent “Insight Report” suggested that self-employed enterprises can be a solution to unemployment among the young amid a new, emerging economic paradigm - one that has been led by innovation and intellectual property rights thanks to IT development and growing demand for entertainment content.
But government support measures mostly benefit and protect the manufacturing sector, leaving self-employed enterprises developing relatively intangible assets like IT and entertainment content out in the cold. These budding fields are in dire need of protection, care and nurture so they can grow. A self-employed enterprise with mobility, liberty and creativity is best equipped for developing innovative smartphone applications and other software. Choi Jong-yeol, a 26-year-old student at Soongsil University, earns 2 million won ($1,778) to 4 million won per month from two local wireless operators for his application. Yoo Joo-whan, a senior at Kyunggi High School, developed the “Seoul Bus” application, drawing 40,000 downloads in just a week of trial service and winning a national award for new talent.
Self-employed enterprises total 200,000, or 1 percent of the 24.65 million people engaged in economic activity. Among them, people in their 20s and 30s make up 30.2 percent and those with college degrees or higher take up 57.4 percent. The Small and Medium Business Administration encourages entrepreneurship, yet without backup from the government, such as tax benefits or deregulation of self-employed enterprises.
Members of the National Assembly’s Knowledge Economy Committee last week submitted a bill to foster self-employed enterprises. We hope the legislation can pass the Assembly this year to encourage young people to fulfill their dreams of starting their own businesses.
Entrepreneurship is bred upon the young’s prerogative to challenge, dare and take on risks. The new law can sow the seeds for a new crop of opportunity, jobs and dreams for young people.
*The writer is a professor of computer science and engineering at Seoul National University.
by Lee Sang-goo