Hiring youth is an investment

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Hiring youth is an investment


Ahn Eun-uk, general manager of Roche Diagnostics Korea

Companies are always in search of new talent. They all know that acquiring the best talent is critical to a firm’s growth and development. However, scores on standardized tests and prestigious diplomas are the factors emphasized most by companies in evaluating potential hires. Is this really the right approach?

When I was young, financial difficulties at home forced me to spend my childhood in an orphanage. However, after a few years, I was able to seize the chance to study in Switzerland through a scholarship program. Some time later, when I heard of my father’s passing, I hurried back home to Korea with my high school studies still unfinished. During my stay, I looked for work - but the social barrier for a high school dropout was too high to overcome. I eventually made my way back to Switzerland to resume my studies, only to return to Korea 20 years later as the head of a company. I sometimes wonder about how my life would have turned out if I had decided to stay in Korea and live my life as a high school dropout.

These days, Korean students live their lives with the linear goal of graduating college and joining a top conglomerate. For years they compete, with emotions running high and low all because of an entrance test score. But there is no serious consideration about what they ultimately want to achieve in life or the way they want to live. Perhaps the most critical thing they fail to realize is that in a fast-changing society, “talent” doesn’t mean someone who went to a top-ranked university. It is someone who is able to stay motivated regardless of his or her academic background, someone who is able to act creatively, someone who knows how to overcome an unfavorable environment, someone who isn’t afraid of challenges - that is what can be considered “talent” globally today.

As an example, let’s look at Switzerland. Switzerland has maintained a 60 percent youth employment rate. This is an impressive statistic, especially considering the youth employment rate in Korea is around 30 percent. The relationship between people and companies in Switzerland can be credited for such an achievement. In Switzerland, students are encouraged from a young age to think about what kind of work might suit them and what they want to do with their lives, then to pursue studies in the appropriate fields. After completing middle school, seven out of every 10 students choose to go to vocational school. Even if they only graduate from vocational school and not university, there are no limitations restricting them from entering large global companies. Applying elements of the Swiss model to Korea would, of course, require adapting in the face of cultural differences. However, it is necessary to consider ways to adopt the Swiss vocational training system in a way that might fit Korea.

Therefore, Roche Diagnostics Korea has launched the Young Meisters Program, adopting a Swiss Vocational Education and Training (VET) program to suggest a solution for the unemployment issue. The purpose of this program is to employ graduates of the “Young Meister” affiliated high schools and assist students to discover their potential to become “Meister” employees. Selected candidates will be trained in practical education and other academics. They will receive an opportunity to experience the VET program at the head office in Switzerland. I am pleased to share our knowledge with the Korean government to benchmark the Swiss employment training system to discover talented candidates in Korea.

I believe that the Young Meisters Program will help change how companies develop talent. It will also help offset stereotypes in Korea about education and occupation. But more than that, I hope that hiring vocational students will be seen as more than just challenging a social norm - that it will instead be seen as an investment in highly creative and fearless individuals. I hope that more companies will see hiring of talent not as an expense but as an investment for the companies’ futures.

By Ahn Eun-uk, general manager of Roche Diagnostics Korea

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