Civil Service Jobs Lose Luster Among Young Koreans

      June 30, 2022 12:52

      Applicants for government jobs in their 20s and 30s are dwindling as the civil service, long considered a lifelong safe haven by risk-averse young Koreans, loses its luster.

      Another factor is that there are simply fewer young people than there used to be, but jobseekers say the benefits of public-sector jobs are decreasing. Until recently, pensions were the biggest plus, but a growing number realize that they are unlikely to rise in line with inflation forever, and meanwhile the paychecks are much smaller than in big business. Young Koreans are also less enamored of the rigid hierarchy of government institutions.

      Yoon Soo-hyun (26) became a civil servant in October 2016 only to quit four years later. She said the job security was a plus, but she was turned off by the lack of personal growth. "I became interested in agriculture and am preparing to run my own farm, which is much more exciting and rewarding," she said.

      A 40-year-old who also quit his government job after a year said, "The civil service was once a sought-after profession, but many young Koreans don't agree with that any more. The top-down work environment was difficult for me to endure."

      According to the Ministry of Personnel Management, the number of civil servants who quit their jobs after less than five years grew from 5,181 in 2017 to 9,258 in 2020.

      The competition rate in the civil service exam has been decreasing steadily over the past decade. The average competition rate for entry-level civil positions fell from 47:1 in 2017, when 230,000 people took the test, to 29:1 this year with only 170,000 candidates. 

      A formerly bustling alley in Noryangjin in Seoul is deserted on June 6.

      That is bad news for the entire neighborhood of Noryangjin, which is full of crammers that prepare applicants for the civil service exam. Businesses fear that students will stay away from crammers even after the coronavirus pandemic ends, not least because they have become used to online study. One 30-year-old owner of a study space said, "Coronavirus infections are declining, but I am not seeing more students coming to study."

      One 58-year-old who has run a shop catering to civil service exam takers for 22 years said, "A decade ago, this place was crawling with students, but now it's almost empty." A week ago the area was still fairly empty even though lockdown is more or less over. "Closed" and "For Rent" signs can be spotted on empty buildings that used to house crammers and restaurants. Many crammers have a tough time finding students.

      One private crammer that used to prepare students for the police and firefighter's exams saw enrollment fall from 200 three years ago to around 80 now.

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