Local businessman devises new plan for day care

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Local businessman devises new plan for day care


Kyong Chong-ho

Kyong Chong-ho, 57, vice chairman of Hyundai Department Store Group, thinks he has the answer to the nation’s low birthrate.

“I came up with a new way to solve the birthrate problem after looking at the issue from a businessman’s point of view,” Kyong said.

Korea has one of the lowest birthrates among advanced countries.

Whenever Kyong meets lawmakers and business officials, he talks about his idea for what he calls a “child care coupon.”

Rather than setting up day care centers at workplaces, Kyong believes that the government should increase the number of regional day care centers with financial support from businesses. Companies would help finance the centers by contributing the money that they would have used to build workplace day care centers. The contributions would be given through the “child care coupon.”

“In that way, day care centers in various regions can improve their facilities and small- and medium-sized companies without day care centers can make use of them,” Kyong said.

To develop his idea, Kyong met and talked to government employees, day care center employees and parents.

It may seem odd for a senior executive of a major retailer to put so much effort into the low birthrate issue, but he explained that a decline in the population can lead to a subsequent decrease in consumers, which in turn affects his business. The retailer has many female employees, and he said that raising their productivity is also a key concern for him.

Hyundai Department Store Group has 1,400 regular workers and 600, or 43 percent, of them are female. When workers from its contractors are included, women account for 74 percent of the company’s 35,000-person workforce.

As a father, Kyong said he was also receptive to his daughters’ concerns about child care.

He also began to realize the limits of workplace day care centers.

In 1997, Hyundai was the first among local retailers to establish an in-house day care center. However, the number of children staying at the center remained at only seven to 10 every year. In 2002, the company closed the center after a discussion with its labor union.

Day care centers are needed in industrial areas where workers are concentrated, he said, but in other places, such as where department stores are located, workplace day care centers can be inconvenient.

The company conducted a survey of 436 employees at Hyundai in September and found that the survey results supported his idea. Some 71.7 percent of its employees said they wanted day care centers to be located near their homes rather than at their workplace.

“If the government and businesses collaborate to formulate ideas and raise money, we could get greater benefits for the same cost,” he said.

By Choi Ji-young [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]
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