Must Young Koreans Now Look Abroad to Find Any Work?

      November 07, 2018 13:22

      Young Koreans are flocking to the Japan job fair that is touring Korea this week, with around 110 Japanese companies looking to recruit qualified staff here. Some 6,200 jobseekers had applied for around 700 openings, and 1,000 from a shortlist of 2,500 applicants came to be interviewed in Busan on Tuesday. The remaining applicants are being interviewed now the fair has moved to Seoul.

      In previous years, Japanese firms hired only around 100 Koreans at such fairs. But this year even big Japanese businesses like Nissan and All Nippon Airways are opening booths to find workers here. That shows how well Japanese businesses are doing. The job fair was hosted by the Labor Ministry here, but it is surely disappointing that the best the Moon Jae-in administration, which has vowed to boost employment, can do is turn overseas in search of jobs for young people in this country.

      Youth unemployment is at the highest level since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, while the opening-to-application ratio has fallen to 0.6. In Japan, by sharp contrast, it is 1.64, the highest level in 44 years. In other words, 1.64 companies are competing for every worker there, while in Korea 1.68 workers are fighting for one job.

      The situation was very different just a few years ago, when Korea boasted one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world while Japan was suffering from an acute job shortage after experiencing its two "lost" decades, a period of economic stagnation following the Japanese asset price bubble's collapse in the early 1990s. Japan finally managed to emerge from the slump with bold regulatory reforms and steps to bolster competitiveness. In contrast, Korea is resorting to old-fashioned populist measures, which is doling out sugar water instead of medicine to an ailing patient. In the absence of bold restructuring measures, Korea's sputtering economy was compounded by a government wearing rose-tinted glasses and refusing to see that its economic policies have been badly misjudged.

      Young workers are a country's most valuable resource. If they go abroad to work, it should be because they want to, not because they have to. But this way the country's best and brightest are being relinquished to Japanese employers. As long as the Moon administration ignores the need for bold measures to overhaul labor policies and streamline regulations, the country could experience a brain drain similar to what Third-World countries might suffer. The state-run Korea Development Institute has forecast that the number of newly employed workers in the fourth quarter could be zero. This is a crisis.

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