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Moon Jae-in’s civil servant pledge draws mixed reaction among aspirants

President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to create 12,000 new jobs in the public sector, including the recruitment of firefighters, police officers and teachers, has been receiving mixed reactions from job seekers aspiring to be civil servants.

In the recent presidential campaign, liberal candidate Moon’s camp envisioned a 10 trillion won ($8.8 billion) supplementary budget to bankroll the jobs policy. The scheme features hiring 1,500 more firefighters and equal numbers of police officers and social workers, alongside 3,000 new teachers to alleviate chronic manpower shortages in the fields.

Then-presidential candidate Moon Jae-in talks about his policy to increase public sector employment at a cram school in Noryangjin, Seoul, in February. (Yonhap)
Then-presidential candidate Moon Jae-in talks about his policy to increase public sector employment at a cram school in Noryangjin, Seoul, in February. (Yonhap)

Naver online community “Policeman Dreamers” -- a study group with 159,629 potential police officers actively sharing tips on the police entrance exam -- has engaged in heated debates over the new employment plan.

Several members have cast doubtful questions or remarks, such as “Is the policy temporary or a rule that can stick?” and “We’ll just have to see how Moon distinguishes himself from former President Park Geun-hye.” The job seekers were cautious in expressing hope for the as-of-yet unfulfilled pledge.

Korean civil service exams are notorious for their low pass rates due to their popularity among young Korean job seekers. In 2016, only 1.8 percent of grade seven and nine exam applicants gained employment. Grades seven and nine are considered entry level in the exam hierarchy.

The police and firefighter exams both include written and physical ability tests followed by interviews, and are held twice for the police and once for firefighters annually. The National Police Agency promised to hire 1,419 people for the first half of this year. A total of 61,091 aspirants have applied.

Heo Kang-hyun, a 25-year-old who has been preparing for the police exam for three years, displayed a wary reaction to the news.

“Both Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in pledged to add 20,000 to 30,000 jobs for the police during the 2012 presidential race, but Park’s administration failed to keep its promise,” he said.

“I personally believe Moon will set a better example, but there are concerns in the Noryangjin community that the sudden influx might trigger a sharp drop in demand.”

Suicide among civil servant test applicants due to stress, anxiety and pressure over fear of failure has become prevalent over the years. Noryangjin, a neighborhood in Seoul, is saturated with test crammers who spend several months to years studying intensely in cheap studio apartments.

South Korea’s unemployment rate for people aged between 15 and 29 -- the core age range for civil service exam applicants -- rose 0.3 percent to 11.2 percent on-year in April, according to Statistics Korea. The figure, which is the highest recorded for the month, poses a strong challenge for the new administration.

Despite the grim atmosphere, some have managed to keep their spirits up by placing complete faith in the policy.

“I have high expectations for President Moon’s job policy because he seems like a transparent leader who is capable of carrying out his vows,” said 22 year-old Kim Ji-soo, a teacher hopeful in Incheon who entered the competition this January. The state licensure examination for teachers also boasts a low pass rate with separate processes to accommodate educational stages.

She said that there was positive buzz in the studying community around her.

“Even if the policy is not carried out immediately, I believe it will gradually pan out within five years,” Kim said.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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