College isn’t everythingKorea boasts the world’s highest ratio of college entry by high school graduates - 82 percent. Every Korean believes a college degree is a must. It is because they know how difficult life can be without one. So parents or students pay around 10 million won ($9,400) a year in tuition for college. But the trouble is that even a college degree does not guarantee an easy life or decent-paying job. Still, we nonetheless believe we must graduate from college for appearance sake. Even if we know a college degree may not be worth it, we insist on it. The result is an inflated higher education system.
The corporate sector holds the key to this problem. It would be entirely different if companies were not biased against people who do not have college degrees when it comes to hiring. The JoongAng Ilbo described a mid-sized company called Mirae Tech. The 49-year-old chief executive Park Hee-cheon established the company in 2008. His academic background ended with vocational high school. The company that produces parts for wind power generators increased its revenue to 13 billion won from 400 million won in the first year. He was able to start up modestly because factory sites were less expensive in rural areas. But he had trouble in recruiting. Few want to move to rural areas. So he offered to pay - 24 million won a year, an amount equivalent to what large companies pay to employees in their first year - to youths regardless of their academic background. He treated staff with or without college degrees equally in deciding their raises and promotions. Talented and loyal youths came rushing in. Of 26 employees, 14 finished school at the vocational high school level.
Companies in rural areas barely muddle along because workers leave soon after they are familiarized with the work. Yet college graduates complain they have no place to go. The jobless rate for this year’s college graduates has gone up from last year. But few of them consider small companies as an option.
Park of Mirae Tech said if high school graduates are treated the same as college graduates, there would be fewer who struggle to enter and finish college. Entrepreneurs regardless of the size of their enterprises should look beyond academic certificates. There are many smart young people who can’t afford to get a college education. Companies must provide good job opportunities and share them with high school graduates. Given an equal opportunity, high school graduates will work with greater loyalty and enthusiasm, leading to better productivity.