More People Turn to Blue-Collar Skills

  • By Kim Seung-jae

    April 13, 2019 08:36

    A growing number of people of all ages are learning blue-collar skills like building maintenance and landscaping, even if they have degrees from top universities or have previously worked for big conglomerates.

    The reason is that they feel that blue-collar jobs offer more job security than office work in a recession.

    At the city-run Seoul Institute of Technology and Education, the most popular class just five years ago was cooking, favored by people who wanted to open their own restaurants. But now it is landscaping and grounds-keeping, perhaps because there seems to be a growing appetite from condos and municipalities for clean, well-designed open spaces.

    Building and electrical maintenance are also in high demand. Courses are free and last from six months to a year .

    Choi Sung-cheol, an instructor at the institute, said, "In tough economic times the popular classes are not entrepreneurship but skills that guarantee work past the average retirement age."

    Lee Kyung-hoon (55) retired after working for a credit card company and started taking landscaping classes. "I didn't want to start my own restaurant because of the slow economy," he said.

    Students learn skills at the Seoul Institute of Technology and Education on April 2.

    But apart from retirees, many students are in their 20s. On the electricians' course, 19 out of 40 students are in their 20, twice as many as five years ago. Those who complete the course can get jobs handling electrical maintenance in factories or offices. Out of 40 building maintenance students, six were in their 20s, whereas five years ago there were none.

    The trend attests to a tough job market and declining interest in starting small businesses due to the recession and rising minimum wage. A city government official said, "We are seeing fewer and fewer people interested in courses related to starting their own business. Instead, they now prefer learning skills that can land them jobs right away."

    The trend is global. In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts total jobs will increase 11 percent by 2022, but employment opportunities for plumbers and other mechanics will grow 21 percent.

    Plumbers' incomes increase steadily even in a recession since no matter how much technology develops, pipes always get blocked and toilets refuse to flush.

    Private adult-education schools also see a rising number of people learning practical skills like electrical maintenance and house painting.

    Koo Jung-woo at Sungkyunkwan University said, "A lot of people used to consider manual labor beneath them, but an increasingly tough job market is changing perceptions if they guarantee job security and a steady pay."

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