Statistics Korea has come up with an unusually strong jobs report for January. It said the number of employed people increased 705,000 compared with a year ago, the largest on-year monthly gain since March 2002, when the economy added 842,000 new jobs.
The January gain was much larger than the 560,000 jobs added in December, 588,000 in November and 476,000 in October. The quickening pace of job creation is seen as a sign that the economic recovery is gathering momentum.
The economy grew 3.9 percent on year in the fourth quarter of last year, faster than the 3.3 percent in the third quarter.
As the economic recovery is picking up, a growing number of people are entering the labor force, including those who have given up looking for work. In January, the economically active population increased by 749,000 people.
The unusually strong January jobs report, however, needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as a couple of one-off factors were at play. One such factor was the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 Lunar New Year holiday.
Generally, wholesalers and retailers increase employment in the run-up to the holiday to deal with a rise in demand. In fact, the wholesale and retail sector led job growth in January by adding 126,000 jobs.
Another factor was the low base effect. Employment growth in January 2013 was relatively weak with 320,000 new jobs created. And this January was much warmer than normal.
While most jobs-related figures tended to improve in recent months, the unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 29 continued to worsen. It hit a four-year high of 8.7 percent last month after jumping to 8.5 percent in December from 7.5 percent in November.
The sharp deterioration set off alarms, prompting the Ministry of Employment and Labor to put expanding job opportunities for youth at the top of its 2014 agenda. The ministry recently announced a set of measures aimed at facilitating young people’s entry into the labor market.
The central piece of the package is a plan to put in place a Korean-style dual vocational education system for high school and college students, which is modeled after those in Germany and Switzerland.
The ministry’s plan is welcome as the proposed system will not only help high school graduates get a job before pursuing a college education but also enable companies to hire new workers that have already been trained.
The ministry said it has teamed up with other ministries to draw up a master plan for the new system. It is strongly advised to enlist the participation of experts from the corporate sector in the whole process, from designing the system to its implementation.