After graduating from a university, job applicant “A” is now struggling from preparing for an employment. Getting a job is urgent for him, since he has spent time in the army and has had few leaves of absence from school. Even though he hurries his way to library to prepare for upcoming employment exam, he cannot ensure his employment and, in addition, his future success. Job applicant “A” is a representative of the so-called “5-PO generation.” It represents the young people in their 20s and 30s who have decided to give up one or more of dating, getting married, starting a family, purchasing a house, and even maintaining relationships. As time passes, the reality facing young people who just have stepped forward into the society after graduating from a university is getting worse.
Young people as the “5-PO generation”
According to the survey by Trend Monitor of Macromill Embrain, which samples the opinions of 1,000 South Korean men and women in the age ranging from 19 to 59, six out of ten (60.4 percent) people agreed with the claim that the current 2030s are the “5-PO generation.” Another survey from the same organization, targeting 500 young people in the 2030s, came back with the result that 36 percent included themselves in the “5-PO generation.” Among them, the females in their 20s had the highest rate at 43.2 percent. It is then followed by males in their 20s, 30s male, and 30s female. The survey (multi-choice available) indicated that people who consider themselves as the “5-PO generation” have abandoned the followings in this order: purchasing a house (61.1 percent), marriage (60.6 percent), starting a family (51.7 percent), dating (47.8 percent), and maintaining relationships (32.8 percent). In terms of purchasing a house, males in their 30s appear to have given up the most on this, with the rate of 72.1 percent.
Such results clearly show that the present 2030s generation is encountering great difficulty to sustain their well-beings in Korean society. As it seems like the situation is getting worse, understanding the main factors contributing to this phenomenon is significant for solutions.
Economic struggles and indifferent government
According to the same survey mentioned above, 58.7 percent responded that the reason for young generation to give up on those five is the problems of social structure in general. It is then followed by unstable structure for employment (58.1 percent) and then by hardships of employment (56.2 percent). Basically, employment crisis was the main cause. Professor Shong Il-ho of the Department of Economics said, “Structural, or microscopic, unemployment is triggered by an inconsistency in the supply and demand of labor, and tends to last in a long-term.” He then explained that while any government must continuously make estimations on which job market will have ups and downs in demand in the future, South Korean government’s lack of doing so brought adversity on the employment rate. He continued, “In the case of cyclical, or macroscopic, unemployment, which is caused by poor economic condition, it is also influenced by the nation.” Looking at Statistics Korea’s most recent research in household budget trends which was announced in March, the average income of the families with more than two individuals under the age of 39 increased only 0.7 percent compared to that of last year. On the other hand, the debt of families in their 30s increased by seven percent. Such statistics show the economic crisis of South Korea as well as how badly the youth are suffering from such phenomenon.
Enterprises inconsiderate of the youth
Following the government, companies were blamed as the second main agent for “5-PO generation” with 50.6 percent or respondents answering so, on the Trend Monitor survey. Research on employment trends by Statistics Korea tells that last year’s total number of workers did increase compared to that of the former year. Also, the nation’s total employment rate reached 65.3 percent which is the highest since 1997. On the surface, the employment outlook for young people seems as if it is getting better; unfortunately, it is not due to numerous enterprises’ hesitation in recruiting younger workers. Most of the newly increased number of jobs is occupied by the baby boomers who hope to get re-employed or women who resumed their careers after child birth and maternity leave. Thus, the actual proportion of these new jobs that the youth can take is very inadequate, especially for those who just graduated from college. The statistics also shows that last year’s employment rate of people in their 50s or more increased while that of those in their 30s decreased. Furthermore, majority of the youth who did overcome the harsh barriers to employment suffered from unstable recruitment and social discrimination. One out of five youth workers have started their jobs by signing contracts that last for less than a year. The contractor may be promoted to a full-time employee if they are lucky enough but such an event rarely happened. Most of the youth had to wander around looking for temporary jobs with similar conditions, or even part-time jobs.
Youth’s high standard vs. youth’s rebuttal
Another cause that was pointed out is a change in the youth’s perspective and values. Such perception of the youth had influence on finding jobs. There is an opinion that young people who are highly educated have too high standards, and mostly prefer large enterprises since it is regarded as a “successful career.” Career, a portal website for recruitment, has recently done a survey on what actual workers regard as the most important career value. From the survey which was out in March 2015, 25 percent of the respondents said “financial reward,” which means a quarter of the workers think of money as the most worthy goal. Because the salary of the job, along with the social status assigned to such jobs, is important here in South Korea, more and more young people’s applications are limited to large companies, while there is a low supply of potential workers for small and medium-sized companies(SME). However, the young people themselves claim that “lowering the job standards” is not the real reason for unemployment. According to Herald Business, nowadays on internet news articles related to employment, one can easily find comments claiming that in contrast to the 5-PO generation, it was relatively easier for the “486(in their 40s, graduated in 80s, and born in 60s) generation” to find job right after they graduated from college. The 2030s’ main rebuttal is that most of the workers who are in their 40s or 50s require extremely high GPAs or official English test scores, and piles of extracurricular activities, and then selectively hire very few while 4050s do not even have ability to meet such requirements.
|Donggukians as members of the younger generation is studying hard at the Central Library. /Photograph by Lho Hyun-jung|
"Cooperation between the 2030s, government, and companies needed"
A change in the 2030s attitudes
In order to solve the social problems that are affecting them, the youth themselves must fully be aware of the seriousness of the present unemployment crisis and be more actively involved. One way to do so is through political participation. Last year’s local election which took place in June showed very low participation in polling by the youth, especially among those in their 20s. Although the overall rate of early voting was exceptionally high, the turnout of the 20s ended up at 48.4 percent which leads to a conclusion that nearly half of the youth are indifferent to politics. Although there is an opinion that the older generation should put down their vested interests, political participation of the younger generation is still required to solve the social problems. Additionally, a change in the 2030s’ perspective on desirable jobs is also important. Professor Lee Young-myon of the Dongguk Business School said, “Instead of consuming time to get hired by big enterprises with a competition rate of hundreds to one, the younger generation should also consider SMEs. There are quite a lot of SMEs where they may gain valuable experience which can be useful when they actually move on to big companies in the future.” On the other hand, an opinion which still remains widespread is that society must first put efforts to improve current conditions of employment rather than simply forcing the younger generation to lower their expectations and aspirations.
Government action through effective policies
Because it is impossible for the youth to solve the problem just by themselves, society, including the government and corporations, must also take initiatives to create jobs and lessen the competitions in the job market. “The government’s priority is to set policies that expand job market,” as Professor Shong said. For instance, the Ministry of Employment and Labor recently came up with its analysis on the effects of creating jobs with 23 policies implemented last year. From the research, fusion of special information industry increased an employment in broadcasting communications industry through constructing geographical information. This policy was launched under the lead of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport and created 35 jobs with the budget of one billion won. As a regulatory policy that can produce more jobs, it has been stated that reducing the weekly working hours to 52 hours will create 18,500 careers in the first year of activation and further produce up to 150,000 careers in subsequent years. Of course, the effort of increasing the number of job is crucial, but job creation in the long-term and with high quality is also important in the era of employment crisis.
Business lowering competitiveness
The main role of business should be to diminish the extreme competition in recruitment by setting different standards other than “specs” such as GPA or officially approved foreign language test scores. Jang So-hyun, a junior majoring in International Trade, said, “Most of the seniors I talk to say that all those “specs” are quite useless in real work. I believe it is inefficient to put a lot of time and effort into something that one’s not really interested in.” Professor Lee said, “The problem of unemployment crisis is an unbalance between the number of people searching for job and the actual number of jobs available. Because of a high gap between supply and demand, companies tend to make standardization through GPA and English test scores.” He then explained, “The solution must come from companies by setting a more deliberate employment policy.” In fact, several South Korean corporations have been hiring new employees with a governmental policy called National Competency Standards (NCS). Its purpose is to let those who are in employment preparation be “on-spec” that is essential to on-the-job performance instead of struggling over reckless “over-spec.” Starting with Hyundai Motor Group at the end of last year, Lotte and Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK) have since also begun using this standard as their hiring method. Another solution that the companies can consider is putting an emphasis on the personal stories of their future employees rather than other specifications (spec). This allows applicants for the career to really show their vision and efforts they have put in and proves that they are qualified for the job. However, there is a voice that is against the business’ purpose. Yang Yu-jeong, a sophomore majoring in Mass Communication and Journalism, said, “There is a possibility of misusing the story because now the companies are implicitly forcing extracurricular activities such as being supporters or marketers of certain group.”
Young people in Korean society are giving up on basic desires in life. Constant efforts of both the older generation and the young are necessary. Choi Eun-ho, a junior of Mass Communication and Journalism said, “We are still too young to give up. We will be able to achieve our goals if we put efforts.” Despite the unavoidable hardships, the most important thing young people have to keep in mind is to never lose hope because losing it will even take away the chance to solve the problem.
Yim Se-youn, Lho Hyun-jung firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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