The Korea Herald


[Weekender] No more high-status vs. low-status jobs?

Perceptions and career aspirations are changing

By Lim Jeong-yeo

Published : Sept. 12, 2020 - 16:01

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Jin, a 41-year-old mother of two kindergartners, has always questioned whether she wanted to put her children through cram schools.

As a well-paid salary worker who followed the conventional path of education, Jin believes she was part of a “luckier” generation. She worries constantly about what new competition and challenges her children will face when it’s their turn.

“While I still unconsciously think that becoming a doctor would be splendid and honorable, if my children wish to become something totally different, or even opt to skip college, I would be happy for them as long as they can ensure enough security,” she said. Who knows what new jobs will be created in her 7-year-old’s early adult years, Jin added.

Jin’s concerns illustrate how perceptions of jobs in South Korea have changed in recent years, with more young people being out of work, with more opting to avoid conventional workplaces, and with new jobs being created in step with technological advancements.

Next big thing

By far the hottest trend in career goals for children these days is the rising popularity of content creation.

According to the Ministry of Education, as of end-2019 content creators edged out doctors in the top three on a list of jobs most coveted by grade school children.

When the ministry surveyed 7,500 sixth grade students, 11. 6 percent said they wanted to be athletes, 6.9 percent said they wanted to be teachers and 5.7 percent said they wanted to be content creators. Doctor slid to fourth on the list, with 5.6 percent saying they’d like to have that job. Rounding out the top 10 were chef, professional gamer, police officer, legal expert, singer and beauty designer.

The ministry noted that compared with a decade before, the range of jobs desired by students appeared to have diversified, and there was less emphasis on any particular profession.

Success stories of people on novel career paths -- like content creators -- fan such dreams.

DJ Gamst, for instance, is a comedian who has 1.86 million subscribers and more than 1 billion views seven years after starting a YouTube channel. He boasts YouTube profits of as much as 400 million won ($337,344) per month.

And then there are even younger budding content creators. Kim Jae-hyun, a 13-year-old YouTuber, has told his 138,000 subscribers that his monthly profits from YouTube come to around 1 million won.

Hoping to help their children emulate that success, more mothers are helping their preschoolers edit and upload creative videos on their own YouTube channels, in hopes of establishing portfolios of sorts for the children in the future.

The attempt to find the “next big thing” as an alternative to a conventional career is more noticeable as the job market suffers a crunch.

According to the state-run Korean Statistical Information Service, the number of employed people above the age of 15 came to a little over 27 million, a fall of around 274,000 from the same month a year ago.

“Kids who grow up in deluge of after-school hagwon and exams are confused to find themselves at the finish line as salaried workers,” said Shin Hye-yoon, a 31-year-old office worker in Seoul.

“The shock is greater when they can’t land their choice of job at all,” Shin said.

Delivery riders (Yonhap) Delivery riders (Yonhap)

Practical alternatives

There are also occupations that are rising in popularity purely for practical reasons.

“I quit my job because of the repetitive overtime work that I could no longer bear,” said 28-year-old Baemin connector Hur Hye-chan.

Previously a commercial designer, Hur now does food delivery as a side hustle while he prepares for his next step in life. Hur said he is unsure how long he will stay in the delivery job, but that it pays his rent and as long as he doesn’t injure himself on the job he can continue for as long as he needs to.

According to Baedal Minjok, Baemin connectors usually work four hours a day, three days a week, making an average of 1.6 million won a month. For Baemin riders, who are full-time delivery workers, the average monthly wage was 4.2 million won in December 2019. The top 10 percent earned more than 6.3 million won.

In a country where the gross national income per person was around 3.7 million won as of 2019, delivery riders are better off than most.

Hur’s case is not uncommon, particularly as delivery has seen greater demand through the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Lee Bu-yeon, an official at the Vroong premium delivery service, the majority of Vroong riders are in their 20s or 30s. The company cannot reveal, or even know, the scholastic background of its riders, Lee said, although she has seen many who picked up the job temporarily to fund their college tuition.

“Delivery (work is) considered a temporary job, or a side job -- people seldom think of it as a lifelong career,” Lee said. “It is one of our business goals to improve the public perception of the work of a delivery rider through our yearly awards ceremony,” she said.

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Encouraging diversity

Will such changes in our perceptions of jobs diminish the need for nearly two decades of schooling?

Not quite, says Lee Bohm, a social critic of the education system in Korea.

Lee, a founding member of the online and offline private education institute Megastudy, led what one would call the perfect elite education course.

He graduated from a science-focused high school for gifted children, attended Seoul National University and earned a Ph.D in the philosophy of science.

While he left Megastudy, saying he was “sick of the conduct in this neighborhood” -- referring to certain areas of Seoul where the heat for private education was becoming excessive -- Lee said he still believes a good educational foundation, such as college education, will remain crucial no matter how the job market changes.

“Regardless of the societal changes, or precisely because of the changes, a university education is critical to prepare young people for their role in the world. The crux of a university education is to learn the higher, complex skills required in the modern world. There is no sufficient alternative to a university for this purpose,” Lee told The Korea Herald.

“As YouTubers have a broadly spread-out income and status range compared to the previously known type of TV personalities, they do not take up a significant meaning as a group in the general labor market.”

There needs to be a better understanding of, and structural support system for, autonomous thinking by students, Lee stressed.

The education authorities are noticing a diversification in the range of occupations that young people want to explore.

On the Education Ministry’s career education webpage, the emerging future jobs that users most want to learn about include personal media content creator, life science engineer, character designer, robotic engineer and big data specialist.

“Financial rewards are of course an important factor in considering a child’s career. However, what makes the most lucrative career is prone to change as technology advances,” said Kim Seong-geun, career education policy department chief at the Ministry of Education.

“In order for our children to have sustainable lives we encourage them to understand what they are passionate about, and what skill set can prepare them for an ever-changing world.”

By Lim Jeong-yeo (