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Korean Engineering in Dire Straits

Posted October. 29, 2005 03:14,   


Even though the Korean government has repeatedly pledged to nurture specialists in engineering science, the number of world-class engineers who are deserting the field has reached a dangerous level.

According to data obtained by Dong-A Ilbo on October 28 on grants for the encouragement of engineering, an average of 2.5 out of 10 prizewinners in the International Youth Skill Olympics quit utilizing their skills and are engaged in other businesses.

Since its first showing at the 1967 International Youth Skill Olympics in Madrid, Spain, Korea has produced total of 418 medal winners with 243 gold medalists, 108 silver medalists, and 76 bronze medalists, winning 14 championships. This has put Korea on the world map in the engineering field.

Yet, only 317 people, 75 percent of the total medal winners, are still eligible for the grants after meeting the requirement of working in the same specialty field for one year.

Korean society’s neglect of and the government’s indifference to technicians and engineers have caused serious concerns that this cold shoulder could exacerbate their frustration, deepen the trend of avoiding engineering as a major, and destroy the foundation of Korea’s manufacturing, a source of national competitiveness.

A reserve fund for the encouragement of technical skill, the financial resources for grants to prizewinners in the International Youth Skill Olympics, was supposed to accumulate 50 billion won when it was initiated. The fund, however, is on the verge of exhaustion with only about 10 billion won in reserve after the government’s decision to stop its contribution.

The law on the encouragement of technical skill requires employers to hire applicants with a certificate of skill first, but the law has become irrelevant because it is just a recommendation.

The government announced earlier this year that it would select master artisans and master mechanics regardless of their educational backgrounds when hiring professors for polytechnic colleges, yet there has been no such employment.

The neglect of technicians and engineers has led to a crisis at technical high schools. Last month, data from an inspection of the Department of Education and Human Resources conducted by the National Assembly showed that the number of students in technical high schools plunged to about 500,000 in 2005 from about 911,000 in 1995.

Jo Yeong-bok, a professor of business administration at Busan National University cautioned, “The neglect of technicians and engineers can accelerate the crisis of the domestic manufacturing industry in a short period of time.”

Kwang-Hyun Kim Keuk-In Bae kkh@donga.com bae2150@donga.com