Unemployment driving more and more young graduates abroad

In 2018, 5,783 graduates left, more than three times than in 2013. Almost a third moved to Japan, which is experiencing labour shortages. South Korea has the most highly educated youth in the OECD with three-quarters of high school students going to college. Although exporting graduates, South Korea is also forced to import blue-collar workers.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – More and more South Korean graduates are taking part in government programmes to find overseas positions because of unprecedented unemployment at home.

State-run programmes such as K-move, rolled out to connect young Koreans to “quality jobs” in 70 countries, found overseas jobs for 5,783 graduates last year, more than triple the number in 2013, its first year.

Due to the growing demand, the government boosted the relevant budget – from 57.4 billion won (US$ 48.9 million) in 2015 to 76.8 billion won in 2018.

Almost one-third moved to Japan, which is experiencing a historic labour shortage with unemployment at a 26-year low, whilst a quarter went to the United States, where the jobless rate dropped to the lowest in nearly half a century in April.

The South Korean programme has the advantage that it does not include an obligation to return home.  In fact, the “Brain drain isn’t the government’s immediate worry. Rather, it’s more urgent to prevent them from sliding into poverty” even if it means pushing them abroad, said Kim Chul-ju, deputy dean at the Asian Development Bank Institute.

In 2018, South Korea generated the smallest number of jobs since the global financial crisis, only 97,000.  Nearly one in five young Koreans was out of work as of 2013, higher than the average 16 per cent among the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In March, one in every four Koreans in the 15-29 age group was not employed either by choice or due to the lack of jobs, according to government data.

Yet whilst increasing numbers of college graduates are moving overseas for work, South Korea is bringing in more foreigners to solve another labour problem – an acute shortage of blue-collar workers.

South Korea has the most highly educated youth in the OECD, with three-quarters of high school students going to college, compared with the average of 44.5 per cent.

Despite the glut of over-educated and under-employed graduates, most young people refuse to accept less prestigious jobs.

For this reason, South Korean companies are forced to incur higher costs to hire immigrants from countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam.