Banks need engineers and scientists

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Banks need engineers and scientists


Kwon Seon-joo

South Korea has been investing heavily in science and technology since the 1970s with the hope that one day it would become a powerhouse in inventions and innovations. With scarce natural resources, it had to rely on human intelligence and power. And through concentrated investment in fostering engineers and scientists, Korea has turned into an information technology hotbed and an industrial power. Over the past 40 years, Korea has produced many talents in the fields of science and technology, and its corporate names now stand foremost in many industrial sectors.

But Korea’s technological competitiveness is far from satisfactory and lags behind advanced countries. Statistics by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the technology balance of payments - which registers the commercial transactions related to international technology and know-how transfers - underscore Korea’s standing. In recent data on the ratio that divided exports of technology with imports, Korea ranked at the bottom out of developed economies in 2011, incurring a $5.9 billion deficit in technology trade during the year.

Yet more and more students are shunning studies in the science and engineering fields. Three Koreans out of 10 winners at the International Science Olympiads entered medical schools, and drop-outs from science and engineering departments in major universities drastically outnumbered those in the humanities division. Talented students also prefer to study and work overseas. In a survey by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, 32.4 percent of people with a Ph.D. in science hoped to find jobs abroad. Migration and the loss of a highly skilled work force poses a serious problem for Korea. According to the 2013 Brain Drain Index, annually released by the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, South Korea ranked 37 among 60 surveyed countries.

A study by the Samsung Economic Research Institute showed Korea in the bottom group among OECD countries in the number of doctors of science and engineering against a 1,000 workable population. In the information and communications technology (ICT) area, Korea will be short of about 90,000 specialists. Considering overall demand for information and technology in our society, the dearth of scientists and engineers could be a serious downside for the country’s future.

Banks also have a growing need for scientists, mathematicians and engineers. There are a great number of small and midsize companies in a financial squeeze despite their technology and promising outlook because they lack tangible collateral to seek loans. They must be able to secure loans backed by their invisible asset value, such as their technology potential and intellectual property. Banks need to be staffed with people with degrees in the science and engineering fields to raise their invisible asset value and potential. People with bright ideas should be able to start their own businesses.

Banks should be able to back them up through accurate evaluation on their intellectual properties and technology standards. Banks and technology companies must build such friendly start-up habitats together. It is the best way to achieve the goal of retooling the economy based on innovation and creativity.

The Industrial Bank of Korea also wishes to aggressively seek out and hire graduates from science and engineering departments and experts in the field.

The role of the government should be essential. The government must encourage incubation of engineers and scientists and their advances to various fields in society. The government should recruit many experts from the science and engineering field in senior government offices and reflect their opinions and expertise in public policies.

More women should be promoted and utilized in the field. One or two years of maternity leave for women could end their careers in the field, which requires long, uninterrupted commitment to research and development in a quickly changing industry. Marriage and birth more or less serve as a death sentence for their careers. Women in the field should be allowed to work part time and away from the office so that their talents can be used regardless of family duties. Precious human resources are worth defending.

We must move beyond the imitation stage in the technology field through market-moving innovations in order to join the ranks of advanced economies. Nurturing and hiring excellent students is imperative for this goal. We cannot leap forward if brain drain and an avoidance of science and engineering studies continue at its current pace. Society must pay more attention to reorienting the economy toward science and technology.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 4, Page B11

*The author is the president of the Industrial Bank of Korea.

By Kwon Seon-joo

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