Jobs are a sore subject for humanities majors

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Jobs are a sore subject for humanities majors

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Korean college graduates who major in humanities subjects are undergoing an employment crisis as the private sector increasingly favors engineering majors.

Samsung Group’s hiring for the autumn was a prime example, in which 80 to 90 percent of 4,500 new hires had engineering and science backgrounds.

According to industry sources, only 20 percent of the new hires at Samsung Group last year were humanities majors, while the ratio at LG Group and SK Group was 15 to 20 percent.

The trend has worsened this year, as some local manufacturers like LG Chem, LG Display and Hyundai Motor decided not to hire any humanities majors.

“Because Korea is a manufacturing-based economy, humanities students always have had a hard time getting hired at major conglomerates. This is not a new problem,” said Im Min-uk, a public relations manager at the local job portal Saramin.

Im says job candidates should focus on “interdisciplinary talents,” a phrase that has become almost a mantra for manufacturers.

She explained companies want well-rounded talent with a deep understanding and knowledge of both technical areas and the humanities. For humanities students in particular, the companies expect to see soft skills in communications and the ability to think comprehensively and critically.

She cited the Samsung Electronics hiring category called Samsung Convergence Software Academy, in which 400 humanities majors hired each year spend their first six months of employment learning software engineering. The company started the program to encourage more innovative software ideas.

Im says humanities students should be ready with a clear idea of which company and which position they want as early as possible and make sure to build their expertise.

“Any interdisciplinary curriculums and double-major programs at school and publicly recognized certificates help,” said Im.

Lee Dae-jung, head of the employment and talent fostering department at the Presidential Committee on the Young Generation, said university-industry cooperative programs should expand in Korea. When operated side by side with university interdisciplinary studies programs, such cooperation helps both students and employers, he explained, because the employer can tailor programs to the company’s needs, while each student gets firsthand information about the job.

But he points out that universities and companies should share their part of the employment burden with students by providing more interdisciplinary curriculums among humanities, natural sciences and engineering disciplines.

According to a recent survey by the Presidential Committee on the Young Generation of 780 college graduates, about 27 percent of humanities graduates pointed out they are not well informed about possible areas of employment in light of their majors.

“It is the university’s job to inform students how theoretical studies can be applied in the real world, and in what areas and how lessons from humanities studies can resonate with certain occupations,” said Lee. “Universities should take the lead when students are in their first and second years of study.”

Meanwhile, Im added that humanities students should consider a larger pool of employers, not just top conglomerates, but small and midsize companies. Unlike in the past, she said, many hidden champions are increasing in influence and some have as much or more career potential as conglomerates.


BY KIM JI-YOON [jiyoon.kim@joongang.co.kr]

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