South Korea's youth look to Budget for job help

A group of women walk past shops and bars on a street in Seoul.
A group of women walk past shops and bars on a street in Seoul.PHOTO: AFP
MS EUNICE HWANG, 26, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in international trade, but has yet to land a job.
MS EUNICE HWANG, 26, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in international trade, but has yet to land a job.

With youth unemployment at a record high, Seoul is redirecting huge funds to help create jobs

Since graduating with a degree in international trade in 2014, 26-year- old Eunice Hwang has sent out more than 50 job applications to big and small companies, hoping to land a job in sales.

She has gone for 15 job interviews, but none successful.

"I'm just looking for a permanent job that pays over 22 million won (S$26,000) a year, with health insurance, welfare benefits, pension and maternity leave, but it's so difficult to find. It feels like I've lost my dream and my future," she said.

There are 560,000 jobless young people like her in South Korea, aged between 15 and 29, based on figures released by Statistics Korea last month.

With youth unemployment hitting a record high of 12.5 per cent in February, the government is now pouring its resources into creating jobs, by redirecting 17 trillion won to projects aimed at giving young people work. Nothing concrete has been announced yet, but the move may win it favours ahead of the parliamentary elections on April 13.

LOST DREAMS

I'm just looking for a permanent job that pays over 22 million won (S$26,000) a year, with health insurance, welfare benefits, pension and maternity leave, but it's so difficult to find. It feels like I've lost my dream and my future.

MS EUNICE HWANG, 26, who graduated in 2014 with a degree in international trade, but has yet to land a job.

The news should soothe the nerves of young people desperate for work. Many, like Ms Hwang, have resorted to finding temporary or part-time work.

Others, like Ms Yu Hyo Jin, 26, are going back to school. A literature graduate, she has been unable to find a permanent job since graduating two years ago and is attending English classes to improve her chances of being hired as a teacher.

"We hope the government will do more to help us. So far, they have promised a lot, but have little results to show," said Ms Yu.

Their woes can be blamed on an unresponsive education system that has not kept up with what the job market needs. College programmes are concentrated in the humanities and social sciences, but the country has been pushing to grow its information technology and financial technology sectors.

Competition is also stiff. A national exam for those aspiring to be civil servants drew more than 222,000 applications in mid-February for just 4,120 positions available.

The Korean economy has also been sluggish of late, due to shrinking exports and increased competition from China and other rising economies. But the younger people of South Korea are not entirely free from blame either. Many are picky, believing that there is a lack of "good jobs" deserving of their qualifications.

Universities push out 300,000 graduates a year, which make up the 500,000 young people who enter the job market annually. But official data shows there are only 200,000 permanent positions available each year.

The rest are temporary jobs, some paying the minimum wage of 6,030 won per hour.

The big push for job creation will come from Budget cuts. On the chopping board could be over 190 projects, including infrastructure development.

Dr Choi Kyung Soo, director of human resource development policy at think-tank Korea Development Institute, said the redirected 17 trillion won is a big sum, but it depends on how the money is spent.

Job creation for younger people is a key pledge by President Park Geun Hye, who took office in 2013. Her administration has been spending about 2 trillion won a year on programmes to help employ young people. But the effectiveness of this policy came into question when a report by the Korea Employment Information Service in January showed that only 26.4 per cent of participants managed to find work through these programmes.

Of these, only 15 per cent were hired as regular employees, while others landed temporary or contract positions.

As for Ms Hwang, discouraged by the bleak situation at home, she is now looking overseas. She has registered with a Singapore-based employment agency and hopes to get an interview soon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'S. Korea's youth look to Budget for job help'. Print Edition | Subscribe