Korean talent eyes Japan as joblessness at home goes up

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Korean talent eyes Japan as joblessness at home goes up


Left: Jeon Jae-yoon, bottom left, works with Japanese co-workers at the offices of Profit Cube in Tokyo. Right: Seo Myung-hee, center, makes a presentation at the Tokyo-based company CEC. [KIM KI-HWAN, OH JONG-TAEK]

The national youth unemployment rate peaked at 12 percent in February this year, and job seekers are turning their attention overseas, particularly to Japan.

According to a survey of 567 job seekers, conducted by the Human Resources Development Service of Korea, a governmental organization that manages human resources data, 67 percent of respondents said they would prefer to work overseas, while 632 nationals found jobs at Japanese companies last year, twice the number as the year before.

Jeon Jae-yoon, a 29-year-old worker at the Japanese IT company Profit Cube, located in Tokyo, joined the trend and landed in Japan in October last year.

“Annual pay for entry-level workers is 29 million won [$25,000], and the yearly raises are quite high,” Jeon said. “Work begins at 9 a.m., finishes exactly at 6 p.m., and we get overtime pay for every 15 minutes past that. I’m happy that the company is so thorough when it comes to respecting my personal time.”

When the JoongAng Ilbo visited Tokyo on March 15 to find Jeon in his office, he was speaking in fluent Japanese with his co-workers while doing his programming work.

“We have four Koreans, including Jeon, on our staff of 70 people,” said Yoko Yumoto, a human resources manager at Profit Cube. “They have IT skills, Japanese language proficiency and are very motivated. To recruit Korean talent, we conduct interviews on Skype and then hold follow-up interviews at the headquarters, offering round-trip airfare to all our candidates.”

The next day, a 31-year-old named Seo Myung-hee, who works for CEC, an IT company located in Ebisu, Tokyo, was giving a presentation to her teammates about media strategies for effectively targeting client companies. Seo used to work for Yahoo Korea and an affiliate company of the game maker Nexon, but she made the choice to move to Japan in January 2013 after learning Japanese and IT skills.

“Korean companies want talented people who are ready to go from day one, but Japanese companies think more about a candidate’s ambition and potential,” she said. “The gap between conglomerates and small enterprises isn’t as wide, either.”

The human resources department at CEC visits Korea to recruit Korean talent, hosting recruitment fairs and cutting its interview process from three stages to one.

Jeon and Seo were both trained by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) through a program called “IT Master,” which provides IT education and Japanese classes to college graduates. The course is open to those who major in fields not related to IT, and aims to connect talented graduates with competitive employers. The yearlong course costs 10 million won, but 80 percent of the expenses are funded by the government.

“Out of the 1,772 job seekers who completed the course, 98 percent landed jobs and 66 percent found jobs overseas,” said Kang Seok-ki, a manager at KITA’s trade campus, the program’s operator.

The IT Master program used to also target job markets in the United States, China and Europe until the mid-2000s, when it narrowed to serving only Japan.

“The United States and China have many available positions, but at the same time, they also have many applicants to fill those positions,” said Park Gwi-hyun, director of the trade association’s Tokyo branch. “But for Japan, supply in the job market has been significantly slashed after the big earthquake in eastern Japan, while demand for new workers remains the same.”

Japan is currently suffering a serious labor shortage, largely a result of its aging population. The employment rate of the nation’s college graduates has reached 97 percent, which means anyone willing to work can land a job. For these reasons, Japanese companies are actively seeking overseas employees. The government is also looking to increase the nation’s ratio of foreign workers, which used to be below 1 percent. The most sought-after candidates are those in the IT sector, as the country is currently planning a big change in its IT system. The Tokyo Stock Exchange, Japan Post and Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games are also looking to invest big in IT systems.

“Less than 10 percent of applicants really satisfy our needs,” said Masayuki Hijikuro, a human resources manager at IBM Japan. “There have been serious shortages in IT labor, and it is our utmost goal to hire talented foreign engineers.”

For Korean applicants, the chance of upward mobility makes the Japanese market especially attractive.

There are many cases of Korean workers first entering a small Japanese company and then moving on to conglomerates like NTT, SoftBank and NHN Japan.

The relative proximity of Japan to Korea stands as another advantage for Korean job seekers. It takes two hours to travel from Seoul to Tokyo by air, which is a commute comparable to working in regional parts of Korea, where travel by bus or car can take just as long.

“It’s better to work in Japan and receive good treatment from the company, rather than struggle to find a job in Korea even though you have great talent,” said 32-year-old Choi Seung-hyun, currently a worker at a midsize company in Japan.

“Japan still has the concept of permanent employment, which means your job stability is relatively high,” said Nam Min-woo, president of the Korea Entrepreneurship Foundation. “Since the country considers seniority an important part of organizational culture, workers can see a gradual rise in their wages, and by the time they reach five years’ seniority, they might be earning more than those in Korean companies.”

But workers in Japan warn that applicants should not to be too excited about their prospects.

“Japan has an individualistic culture, but at the same time, a very conservative one,” said Oh Min-bok, a 36-year-old worker who moved to CEC after first moving to Japan to work at a small company. “Prices are high, and it’s not as easy as you think to live apart from your friends and family back in Korea.”

He added that applicants should carefully consider when they would like to marry. “There are people who gave up and went back to Korea in just three to four years after employment,” Oh said.

Still, considering the high demand for Korean talent in Japan, KITA will continue to strengthen its support for job seekers who want to work in Japan. The association plans to invite Japanese companies to open recruitment fairs and link them with job seekers. “Japanese companies look for actual skills rather than specs,” KITA vice chairman Kim Jung-kwan said. “Job seekers should eye a broader job market in Japan, rather than competing in the narrower local market.”

BY KIM KI-HWAN, PARK SUNG-MIN [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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