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[Editorial] Competency-based society

Firms encouraged to adopt new hiring approach

Last year, the government began to introduce a competency-based recruitment system to public institutions as part of its efforts to change Korea’s hiring culture.

The new recruitment system is based on the National Competency Standards, a wide-ranging set of standards that define the level of knowledge, skills and aptitudes required to perform each job in more than 800 occupations.

The government began to develop the NCS in 2002 to help businesses hire workers based not on their educational backgrounds and credentials -- which are often called “spec” in Korea -- but solely on their competencies.

The NCS are also intended to ensure that schools educate and train their students in a fashion that meets the changing needs of industry. 

Last year, the government applied the NCS-based recruitment system to 130 public organs. This year, it plans to introduce it to 100 more agencies before expanding it to all public-sector institutions next year.

Under the system, the hiring process starts by clearly laying down the required competencies and evaluation criteria. In the test process, the focus is put on candidates’ competencies, not on other indications of their skills and potential, such as references.

The positive aspects of this new approach were confirmed by a survey of the 25 public agencies that recruited 350 new employees last year using it. The Employment Ministry found that about 40 percent of the new recruits had no TOEIC or other English proficiency test scores.

Such a finding would be unimaginable at most major corporations, as they require job applicants to submit TOEIC and TOEIC speaking scores. The ministry said 16 of the 25 public institutions refrained from requiring applicants to present their English proficiency test scores.

Among the 140 new employees with no English test scores, 27 were high school graduates and 50 had a junior college diploma. The ministry explained that the exclusion of English proficiency from the evaluation criteria resulted in an increased recruitment of high school and junior college graduates.

The surveyed agencies also reported a significant drop in turnover rates among first-year employees. This may be because the new employees joined the companies with a clear understanding of the tasks they were expected to perform.

These encouraging findings motivated the government to try to expand the new recruitment system to the private sector.

Private companies are strongly encouraged to discard their old hiring practices. If big business groups jump on the competency bandwagon, Korea’s transition to a competency-based society will be accelerated.

Private companies also need to cooperate with the government to ensure that the NCS reflect the needs of industry more accurately. The success of the whole project depends much on how accurately the NCS identify and define the competencies required to perform jobs in each industry. Private companies can play an important role in improving the NCS.
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