Employment ice age, Hell Joseon: Youth in Japan, South Korea bear the brunt of job losses due to Covid-19

Japanese and South Korean youth have had to think on their feet to escape the prospect of being jobless.
Japanese and South Korean youth have had to think on their feet to escape the prospect of being jobless.PHOTO: AFP

It’s described as an “employment ice age” in Japan and “Hell Joseon” in South Korea.

The Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a rise in unemployment in both countries with young people, perhaps, bearing the brunt of the job losses. Many are unable to secure their dream jobs – or any job at all – after graduation.

As major conglomerates in both countries cancel their annual mass hiring blitz, Japanese and South Korean youth have had to think on their feet to escape the prospect of being jobless as Correspondents Walter Sim and Chang May Choon report.


Japanese youth doing what it takes to avoid a Covid-19 'employment ice age'


Ms Ayaka Nakamura counts her blessings to be able to work for the Tokyo company, which allows her to telework full-time. PHOTO: COURTESY OF COURTESY OF AYAKA NAKAMURA

After applying to nearly 50 firms in Japan and overseas, Ms Ayaka Nakamura finally got a job offer as an associate at a Tokyo research firm.

This was despite her aspirations to work in journalism, either at a newspaper or online media firm.

"Honestly I was very angry when I was rejected the first time, but after facing dozens of rejections I got used to the feeling," the 23-year-old told The Straits Times.

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'Employment ice age': Japanese woman finds work in semiconductor firm after cabin crew dreams grounded


Ms Kana Amaya's aspirations were crushed by the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to a freeze in hiring in the global aviation industry. PHOTO: COURTESY OF COURTESY OF KANA AMAYA

Ms Kana Amaya's childhood dream was to see the world while working as a cabin attendant.

The jetsetter, who has visited countries like the United States and the Philippines, has also picked up language skills that she hoped to be able to use on the job. Besides her native Japanese, she speaks English and Thai.

But the 22-year-old's aspirations were crushed by the Covid-19 pandemic which has led to a freeze in hiring in the global aviation industry. Ms Amaya says she applied to domestic and international carriers, including Singapore Airlines and Emirates, to no avail.

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South Korean youth trapped in unemployment hell made worse by Covid-19, changes in recruitment


Young people in South Korea now see their prospects darkening further due to Covid-19 and changed recruitment practices. PHOTO: REUTERS

Landing a job, not to mention a dream job, is nowadays a mean feat for young people in South Korea.

Already stuck in a fiercely competitive job market saturated with college graduates, one they had been regarding as "hell" for a while, they now see their prospects darkening further due to Covid-19 and changed recruitment practices.

South Korea reported a record-high actual unemployment rate of 25.4 per cent in September for those aged between 15 and 29, a 4.3 per cent increase year-on-year. This figure includes those holding part-time or temporary jobs, who are working fewer than 36 hours a week while trying to find a permanent job.

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'Hell Joseon': Coronavirus dashes young Korean's dream of working in US


Ms Lee Hyun-a is trying to find a job in a non-governmental organisation, non-profit group, or think tank. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LEE HYUN-A

Living in New York and about to complete her post-graduate studies in political science earlier this year, Ms Lee Hyun-a was ready to find a job in the big apple and start the new chapter of her life there.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic reached the United States and the 25-year-old had to return to her hometown in South Korea in May.

"Both daily life and the job market froze at the same time. I couldn't stay on and pay rent without a job anymore, so I came back," she told The Straits Times.

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