Youth employment still stuck near 40%

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Youth employment still stuck near 40%


For Korea’s new graduates from high school and college, getting a job is still a frustrating and discouraging task. True, new graduates found it slightly easier to find their first job this year than last, but the class of 2015 also tended to leave those jobs in larger numbers.

Data from Statistics Korea released on Thursday provided a snapshot of the youth employment situation in May of this year, an annual survey that allows comparisons with data from the same month in other recent years. The survey examined the employment status of Korea’s 9.5 million youth, those of ages 15 through 29.

Only 3.9 million people in that group were employed full-time in May. The employment rate of 41.7 percent is an improvement of about 1.2 percentage points over the rate in the same month of 2014 and the highest rate since May 2009.

New graduates, of both high schools and colleges, reported that they had found a job after and average 11-month search. That was slightly faster than the experience of last year’s grads, who said it took an average of 11.6 months to be hired. But part of the reason for the improvement is a drop in expectations and a willingness to settle for less.

But that has led to other problems. Nearly two-thirds of all employed Korean youth, newly graduated or not, said they had quit their first jobs after holding them for an average of 15 months. Their main complaints were low salaries and long hours. Other reasons given included a mismatch with their college major, disappointing work assignments and a lack of confidence in their firm’s staying power. Figures suggest that with an increasingly bleak economic outlook, youth this year were less choosy about dropping off their resumes at a potential employer.

But there are also 5.6 million youth still looking for a job, and among them were 639,000 new secondary school or college graduates who say they have never been employed. That number has risen from about 452,000 in 2006 and 570,000 last year.

Some new graduates have intentionally deferred entry into the workforce, opting instead to aim for government jobs that require intense and prolonged periods of study for entrance examinations. In an unstable world, government jobs are still seen as the gold standard because of their job stability and benefits. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the number of people in that group fell very slightly from last year.

A third of the group interviewed in May said they were studying for the regular civil service examinations given by the national and local governments. Last year, 28 percent said that kind of job was their goal.

Another 10 percent were studying for the high-level civil service examination, and about 8.5 percent for exams given by media and public corporations.

In a nation where even smaller companies put prospective employees through formal hiring exams, less than 20 percent of unemployed graduates said they were studying for such tests. That is a reduction of about 6 percentage points from last year; the number of job openings has shrunk and job seekers believe the testing has gotten tougher.

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