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More companies opt for experienced workers

Lee Hyun, 28, spent nearly three years trying to get a job. She finally secured one after 50 failed attempts to even get her resume through the first stage of the job interview. Her efforts included months of listening to special Internet classes and crammed studies for Chinese upon tips that some companies offer merits for multilingual skills.

“As more companies opt to hire experienced workers, it seems that the doors for newbies seem to get narrower and more crowded,” Lee said.

More than a million inexperienced jobseekers like Lee, have been facing growing competition from experienced candidates for their first jobs, as Korean companies increasingly prefer the latter amid mounting economic uncertainties.

According to one of Korea’s biggest job search engines Saramin, one in four job postings on the site were geared toward skilled workers only. Only 5.5 percent of the jobs were posted for inexperienced jobseekers. About half of the total job openings were for both university graduates and those with experience.

Companies in certain industries including IT, construction, manufacturing, chemical, design and media have been more actively seeking skilled employees, the tally showed.

“We prefer to hire people with work experience of less than five years since they can use their skills at work right away,” said Kim Ji-hoon, who manages human resources at a Seoul-based manufacturing company.

“The experienced take only a few months to achieve results while it takes at least a year for companies to train new employees and make sure they adjust to the corporate culture,” he added.

For companies, hiring university applicants is part of a long-term investment strategy to nurture future leaders. But the deepening economic downturn deters them from recruiting students, Kim said.

Yoon Ji-soo, who delayed her graduation to look for a job, said the situation was “frustrating.”

“I can feel that experienced workers have a competitive edge in the job market,” said the 23-year-old, who majored in politics at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

“It is an irony that the companies want experienced workers but at the same time favor young job applicants. We all need somewhere to begin our career, don’t we?” she said.

Lee Chang-won, director at Wage and Job Research center in Korea Labor Institute, pointed out that the companies’ preference for skilled employees could increase and prolong the youth unemployment situation, especially during the economic slump.

South Korea’s youth unemployment rate stands at 9.2 percent, according to the latest official statistics, much higher than the overall unemployment rate of 4 percent. The real unemployment rate, which includes those marginally attached to the labor force and those employed part time, is over double that at 21.8 percent.

However, in the long run, it is positive that more jobs are available for experienced workers, according to Lee.

“The increase in labor mobility is necessary to reduce the skills-job mismatch,” the director said. “The society just needs more trainee systems and internship programs to help young job seekers to gain work experience.”

By Ock Hyun-ju (