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South Korea's Newest Export Hit: Unemployed Graduates

SEOUL (Reuters) – Cho Min-kyong has an engineering degree from one of South Korea's premier universities, a design award, and a near-perfect result in her English test.

Job seekers look for job opportunities during the Japan Job Fair 2018 in Seoul, South Korea, on November 7, 2018. The photo was taken on November 7, 2018. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji

But she had almost given up hope of finding a job when all of her 10 applications, including one at Hyundai Motor Co., were turned down in 2016.

Six months later, unexpected help came from neighboring Japan: Cho received vacancies from Nissan Motor Co and two other Japanese companies after a job fair hosted by the South Korean government to coordinate the country's skilled workers with employers abroad.

"It's not that I was not good enough, there are just too many jobseekers like me, that's why everyone fails," said the 27-year-old now in Atsugi, an hour southwest of Tokyo, as a car seat engineer for Nissan works.

"There are many other opportunities outside Korea."

With South Korea's unprecedented labor crisis, many young South Koreans are now signing up for government-sponsored programs to fill foreign jobs for a growing number of unemployed graduates are said to be in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

State programs such as K-move, which aims to introduce young Koreans to "quality jobs" in 70 countries, found 5,783 overseas graduates in the past year, more than three times the number in 2013, the first year.

(Graphic: Korea's young talents go abroad png – tmsnrt.rs/2 LwlSUU)

Almost a third went to Japan, where there is a historic labor shortage and unemployment has reached a 26-year low, while a quarter has passed to the United States, where the April unemployment rate has been at its lowest level in nearly half a year Century has fallen.

There are no strings attached. Unlike similar programs in countries such as Singapore, where there is a commitment to return and work for the government for up to six years, participants in South Korea's programs will not have to return or work for the state in the future.

"Brain drain is not the government's immediate concern, it is more urgent to prevent it from slipping into poverty," said Kim Chul-ju, deputy dean at the Asian Development Bank Institute.

South Korea has 97,000 in 2018 the lowest number of jobs created since the global financial crisis.

Almost one in five young Koreans was unemployed in 2013, which is above the 16 per cent average among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states.

In March, one in four was unemployed According to government sources, Koreans in the age group of 15 to 29 are neither working voluntarily nor due to lack of jobs.

(Graphic: South Koreans land overseas by 2018. png – tmsnrt.rs/2DZCTR9)


India and other countries face similar challenges in creating jobs for skilled workers ha Ben, the family dominates -Run conglomerates, known as Chaebol, make South Korea uniquely vulnerable.

The ten largest conglomerates, including world-class brands such as Samsung and Hyundai, account for half of South Korea's total market capitalization.

But only 13 percent of the country's workforce is employed in companies employing more than 250 people, the second lowest in Greece after OECD, and far below the 47 percent in Japan. "The big companies have mastered a business model to survive without increasing attitudes," said Kim So-young, an economics professor at Seoul National University.

However, as more and more graduates move overseas, South Korea is attracting more and more foreigners to solve another labor problem – an acute shortage of workers.

South Korea has the most highly educated youth in the OECD, with three-quarters of students attending college, compared with an average of 44.5 percent.

"South Korea pays the price for its excessive protection of world-class jobs and for its passion for education, which has spawned a flood of people who only want this small number of top jobs," said Ban Ga-woon, a labor market researcher Country. Lead the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training.

Even in the midst of a flood of highly educated and underemployed graduates, most refuse to get their hands dirty, says Lim Chae-wook, who runs a cable factory with 90 employees in Ansan, southwest of Seoul. "The locals just do not want this job because they think it's humiliating, so we're forced to hire a lot of foreign workers," Lim said, pointing to nearly two dozen workers from the Philippines, Vietnam and China who were in Safety masks work welding equipment.

In the southwestern city of Gwangju, Kim Yong-gu, chief executive of Kia Motor's subcontractor Hyundai Hitech, says foreign workers are more expensive, but he has no choice because he does not find enough locals to fill vacancies ,

"We pay for accommodation, food and other utilities so as not to lose them to another factory," Kim said. Out of 70 employees, there are 13 Indonesians who sleep and eat in a building next to their factory.


For those who escaped the harsh Korean labor market, not everything was rosy.

Several people who found a post abroad with the help of the government said they did minor jobs such as dishwashing in Taiwan and meat processing in rural Australia, or were misinformed about wages and conditions. Lee Sun-hyung, a 30-year athletics major, went to Sydney with K-move in 2017 to work as a swim coach, but earned less than $ 600 a month, a third more than her government traders told her in Seoul.

"It was not what I was hoping for, I could not even afford to pay rent," Lee said, cleaning windows part-time in a fashion store before going bust less than a year later

Officials say that they create a "black list" of employers and improve the review process to prevent recurrence of such cases The Labor Ministry also set up a "Support and Reporting Center" to better address issues

Many of the broadcasts lose contact as soon as they go overseas, and a survey from 2017 revealed that nearly 90 percent of the graduates who went abroad with the help of the government between 2013 and 2016 do not turn up the Ministry of Labor's requests responded to their whereabouts or changed their contact details.

Nevertheless, the grim job market at home brings more each year Koreans on the program. The government has also increased the relevant budget to support rising demand – from 58.4 billion won (48.9 million dollars) in 2015 to 76.8 billion won in 2018, according to data from the legislator Kim Jung-hoon occupy.

"The government is not scaling this project as we worry about brain drain," said Huh Chang, head of the Development Finance Bureau of the South Korean Ministry of Finance, which co-administers state vocational training programs with the Ministry of Labor. Rather, the focus has been on meeting the growing demand for overseas experience, with so many graduates out of the workforce, Huh added.

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A hopeful scenario would be for the economy to one day use the resources that bring these graduates home as experienced returnees, Huh said.

For 28-year-old K-move alumni Lee Jae-young, this seems to be a distant perspective.

"The one-year stay abroad added a line to my CV, but that's about it," said Lee, who returned to Korea in February after working as a chef at the JW Marriott Hotel in Texas. "I'm back home looking for another job."

Additional coverage by Yuna Park and Hyunjoo Jin; Edited by Soyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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