Demand rising for tech graduates

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Demand rising for tech graduates

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Ms. Choi, a 27-year-old graduate from a mid-ranking Seoul university, has spent much of the past two years working on obtaining a position at a top conglomerate. But her biggest concern in her job search is neither her grade point average, nor her qualifications. Rather, it’s her history degree that’s the problem.

Since graduation, Choi has applied to about 50 conglomerates and financial companies in open recruitment processes. So far, she’s only received call-backs from five places.

But, in those instances she did hear back, she admitted, “I couldn’t respond when I was asked in the interview, ‘How will you use your major to contribute to the company?’?”

Indeed, the nation’s top four conglomerates have shown a trend of shying away from recruiting humanities majors in recent months, with four out of five new hires holding science or engineering degrees, the JoongAng Ilbo reported Wednesday.

But because of the high number of humanities graduates who apply for these positions, the reality is that competition for a spot at a top conglomerate is raised by as much as nine times, compared to the chances for those with math- or science-related specialties.

The JoongAng Ilbo compiled information for newly recruited college graduates from Samsung Group, Hyundai Motor Group, SK Group and LG Group for the second half of 2013, and the results showed that of the 103,000 people who applied to Samsung Group, the ratio of humanities to science or engineering graduates was three to two, respectively.

Of the 5,500 new recruits in the second half of last year, 85 percent were science majors, meaning that of the 60,000 humanities majors who applied to Samsung, only 800 were selected.

This puts their chances of being chosen by the conglomerate at one out of 75 candidates, compared to one out of 8.8 for science grads.

Likewise, at Hyundai Motor and LG Group’s electronics and chemical subsidiaries - LG Electronics, LG Display and LG Chem - newly hired recruits stood at one humanities major to every four science majors.

SK Group hired slightly more humanities majors, at 30 percent.

“Truthfully, the percentage of college graduates applying through our open recruitment process is similar to any company, with humanities majors at 60 percent and science majors at 40 percent,” a human resources employee at a large conglomerate said. “But for humanities majors to be recruited by a big conglomerate is like a camel going through the eye of a needle.”

Large Korean conglomerates focus on exports and manufacturing, and tout employees with strong science and engineering backgrounds in order to be globally competitive.

“In the case of science majors, if you major in electronics, chemistry or mechanical engineering in a metropolitan school, your chance of employment is 100 percent guaranteed,” said an employee at a large conglomerate in charge of hiring. “On the other hand, humanities majors who have graduated from a mid-ranking or higher-ranking university in Seoul are usually the first to be refused.”

All things considered, job opportunities at leading conglomerates for those with humanities backgrounds are shrinking, with representatives admitting up front that science majors are preferred or that the number of humanities majors being hired is limited. Even finance companies that traditionally favored humanities graduates are now showing a preference for majors with more technical aspects.

However, the mismatch between applicants and those being hired is not reflected in the academic arena. For every six humanities majors, there are four science majors.

According to the Ministry of Education, 48.1 percent of matriculated students declared humanities, social science or education majors, while 38.4 percent declared science or engineering majors. This is compared to 50.4 percent for humanities and 41.4 percent for science in 1987.

The disparity between the number of humanities graduates compared to actual demand in the work force has resulted in concern from schools, students and parents, and calls for the government to come up with a plan to balance this mismatch are rising.

“Korean universities that have advanced with a focus on humanities and liberal arts majors are not responding to the industry and society’s demands in a timely manner,” said Yang Jung-ho, a professor of education at Sungkyunkwan University. “There is a need to reform the structure of universities, taking into account other models from advanced countries where the characterization of majors and its size matches societal demands.”

Education Ministry data shows that there were 149,000 humanities students compared to 119,000 science majors last year. The statistics also show that the employment rate for humanities majors who graduated from a four-year college in 2013 was 47.8 percent, compared to 67.4 percent for science majors.

“The fact that the new recruits the top four [chaebols] hire fall short of 20 percent is only the tip of the iceberg in the job market,” said Seo Mi-young, the vice president and co-founder of Incruit, an Internet recruiting company. “Not only at the top 10 [conglomerates] - the ratio between humanities and science grads are three to seven, even at regular large conglomerates.”

Job candidates with humanities backgrounds often sought jobs in areas such as business and marketing in the past. Seo added, “But now companies desire science majors who have more expertise and understanding of the product or technology.”

Concern is also increasing that high school students are opting for a humanities track not because of a natural aptitude for it but because they feel intimidated by complex math.

“My high school daughter is not confident in her math abilities and considered selecting a liberal arts major in college next year,” admitted Lee Geon-ho, from Gyeonggi. “But after seeing the JoongAng Ilbo report .?.?. we are seriously pondering that path. It’s most important to choose a major that is best for employment after graduation.”

Oh Jong-woon, an evaluation director at Etoos Cheongsol, a private education group, added that many high school students often prefer humanities majors because they can study half the amount of math as a science major.

“Middle and high school mathematics standards here are much more difficult than in the U.S.,” he said, “which can affect the future course for these students. Thus, there is a need for the math standards leading up to the college application process to be easier.”

BY CHUN IN-SUNG, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]


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