Samsung’s recruitment problem

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Samsung’s recruitment problem


Song Ho-keun

A placard at the entrance to a village on Jeju Island read, “Celebrating Kim Sung-soo of Tamra High School for Entering Samsung SDS.” The student’s family must have had high expectations for the graduate when he went to Seoul.

These signs are often found in regional towns. Getting into a top university, passing the civil service exam or entering a major company is considered to be a gateway to success. The neighbors would celebrate with a feast.

Getting into college or a company may be one of the most significant events for many Koreans, as a person’s status is often determined by his or her academic background and career choice, and changing that system often leads to great controversy. Koreans are strongly egalitarian, and a mistake in an attempt to change the admissions system could lead to the termination of a government official.

While the college entrance system was evolving, the controversy continued. The cold-hearted one-time exam system continued until the late 1990s because other alternatives couldn’t satisfy everyone. Today, some colleges have more than 20 different admissions criteria, and despite some discontent, the system works because it reflects regional considerations. Students from low-income families and rural areas can apply to top universities. Now, we can spot the banners in mountain villages and small towns. In Korea, even competition should have an “equality” label.

Samsung’s ambitious recruitment reform has been shelved. The company must have been greatly pressured because it gets more than 200,000 applicants every year. And as youth unemployment increases, more and more applicants are taking courses to get into Samsung. It’s difficult to select 10,000 workers from the pool, and they may have wished to reduce the social waste of having 200,000 young Koreans studying for the Samsung Aptitude Test. It is an unavoidable problem for Korea’s No. 1 company.

The company came up with a plan to entrust university presidents with recommendations for students applying to Samsung, but the response was unwelcome. One student body at a university put up a poster declaring that they rejected the nomination process. Critics argued that Samsung was ranking colleges and universities, and that schools would become subordinate to Samsung. The critics may have a point, but they shouldn’t have trampled on Samsung’s good intentions.

Samsung did make a mistake by naming universities and allocating a fixed number. The selection of the universities and the number of students shifted the sensitive equalitarianism. The universities and the number of nominations are likely to be based on the accumulated data of the new hires from the past few years.

If Samsung gave opportunities to all universities, like the regional quota, the public would have responded differently. If schools were to decide how many students they would recommend and Samsung selected from that pool, the new system could have provoked an uproar. So it’s regrettable that Samsung didn’t consider public sentiment while looking out for its corporate interests.

But Samsung’s three-part plan is interesting. It includes university president recommendations, on-site interviews and a resume screening, which are similar to existing colleges’ regional admissions quota, rolling admissions and regular admissions categories.

Though, it has yet to be seen whether this plan will have a positive impact on overall college education. But if the number of Samsung Aptitude Test applicants goes down to 20,000 from 30,000, the concentration in the job market will be relieved. So Samsung should not give up because of the criticism. A revolutionary change is desperately needed in the job market, and preparing a new system that accommodates the needs of the time is a crucial social role for the corporation. Many college students are more interested in preparing to get jobs than lectures at their schools.

Companies have the right to select and hire employees. But the No. 1 company in equalitarian Korea should take a sensitive sociological and psychological approach. Even in the Joseon period, the civil service exam had candidate quotas for each province proportional to the population size. According to research by Professor Han Young-woo, 20 to 40 percent of the candidates who passed their civil service exams were commoners. The Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) was an aristocratic class-oriented society but went to great lengths to give fair opportunities.

College admission is an ordeal for young students, and finding a job takes away the spirit of college students.

How about a completely fresh plan to liberate young people from the competition of qualification? Fierce competition takes away citizenship education from colleges. College students in Korea have little to no contact with civil society by participating in civil movements or discussing public issues. So civil democracy is not likely to blossom in Korea.

Seventy percent of the college students in Britain are members of a civil group. It is considered a prerequisite, and Britain maintains its affluent society with a world-class civil democracy. Will employees lacking citizenship benefit the company? When competition kills colleges, then business cannot survive. No student in my political science class in the fall semester has joined a civil group, and most of the students were social science majors.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a sociology professor at Seoul National University.

By Song Ho-keun
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