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Out-of-vogue occupations see demand soar due to poor job market

Out-of-vogue occupations see demand soar due to poor job market

Posted January. 18, 2013 02:52,   


A sailor on Dec. 14 last year got off a ship after 16 months at sea to reunite with his wife and three children. His twin daughters who were babies in October 2011 when he got on the ship have turned three, and he could not hold back tears when his children ran into his arms saying, “Daddy!”

Though 38, the man is relatively new at his job with less than two years of experience. More people are joining the crew of ships sailing overseas like him as crewman is regaining popularity as a vocation in Korea. Other jobs once popular in the past have recently become in demand again, such as welder, overseas construction worker and nurse.

Before joining the crew, the man had worked for almost 10 years at a corporation as an office worker with a college degree. He had no economic difficulty because his wife was a civil servant. After his twin daughters were born in 2009, he began to worry whether he could stay at his job until retirement age.

Despite opposition from his family, he got a job on a 2,300-ton ship that sailed from Korea to China and Japan last year. He will work on a 5,300-ton ship next month. “It feels more natural for me to work as a sailor than an office worker. I’d like to build my career as a special ship engineer,” he said.

When seamen come to mind, Koreans tend to think of fishing boats. But the kind of ship that the man takes is a vessel carrying petrochemical products to China and Japan, which are made by Korean oil companies in Korean port cities such as Ulsan and Yeosu, South Jeolla Province. The rise of petrochemical product exports in recent years has greatly raised demand for crew.

Over the past two years, all who completed the ocean-polytech course at the Korea Institute of Maritime and Fisheries Technology have found employment, including the father of the twin daughters.

The students attending the course are as competent as those who apply to work for conglomerates. A source at the institute said, “Former military officers or people with good English skills, as in TOEIC scores higher than 950, apply for the course. The competition can be as severe as 6:1 depending on the course. The starting annual salary of a Korean shipping company is about 40 million won (38,000 U.S. dollars) on average, while the average annual salary of a foreign counterpart is about 60 million won (57,000 dollars).”

This is not an isolated case. Jobs that Koreans used to avoid and called "3-D (dirty, dangerous and difficult)" have grown popular due to the tight job market.

Welding is a case in point. In Korea, welders have a greater chance of lifetime employment at large shipbuilders. The Korea Vocational Training Institute of Welding said 92.7 percent of its graduates last year were hired by large companies such as Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Samsung Heavy Industries.

Many are also applying to work construction jobs in the Middle East. In last year, Hanwha Engineering & Construction recruited 50 field workers among high school graduates-to-be, and was surprised to see more than a thousand applied.

More women in their 20s are studying for an American nursing certificate like the 1960s when many young nurses went Germany to gain employment. A source from World Job, an overseas employment agency under the Human Resources Development Service of Korea, said, “In the U.S., hospitals have a hard time hiring enough nurses and have turned to foreign nurses. A lot of Korean women want to work as nurses in the U.S. because they can earn an annual salary of 60,000 dollars on average. Working conditions are also better at American hospitals than those in Korea.”