Vocational school graduates say they just can’t get a break

High school students line up at a job fair held at Duksoo High School in Seongdong District, east of Seoul, in October. [NEWS1]

The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the Korean job market. But for students in vocational high schools, it is rather a disaster.

Eight in ten vocational high school students in Korea believe the coronavirus pandemic has had a “negative impact on their employment opportunities.” Seven in 10 students actually feel that the pandemic has “reduced their work opportunities.”

These are some of the findings detailed in a Union Center report that was submitted to the Presidential Economic, Social and Labor Council. The center interviewed 438 current vocational high school students in Korea or those who have already graduated to determine the impact of Covid-19 on high school students attending vocational schools.

Students in vocational high schools prefer to get a job rather than enter colleges after graduation. Most of them choose vocational schools over general secondary schools because the schools provide students with vocational training and help them prepare for employment.

“A friend of mine received job vacancies from four companies,” a high school student at a vocational high school in Seoul said in the report. “We can’t just decide to go to college at this point.”

“It’s hopeless.”

Some 63 percent of vocational high school students responded that they had experienced a delay or cancellation of a job offer. Twenty percent of them said they had job vacancies canceled before the start date.

But the lack of job opportunities is not the only problem these high school students face.

Most courses in vocational high schools include practical demonstrations that must be followed in person. But as classes have been moved online due to social distancing guidelines, many high school students have lost the chance to learn and build their skills to enter the workforce.

“Whenever we have questions while listening to lectures, we need someone to ask them directly,” another high school professional told Union Center. “Online courses just don’t work that way.”

Some 55% said the number of classes including hands-on demonstrations declined after the pandemic. About 16% said schools were running the online courses, but they were not working as they should.

Students are also suffering as many certificate exams have been canceled and delayed due to social distancing guidelines. For young Koreans, especially those who were offered a job right after high school, certain certificate exams such as TOEIC English tests or computer science exams are often required to qualify to apply for companies.

“I gave up on a certificate exam because the schedules for two important exams were overlapping due to delays,” said a senior student who attends a vocational high school in Gwangju. “We usually prepare these certificates for two years at school, but this time we had to study on our own because we weren’t allowed to go to school.”

“It is unfair.”

Some students even quit their jobs and are forced to prepare for college.

According to the Education Ministry, only 27.7 percent of vocational high school students found jobs last year. In 2017, it was 50.6%.

But during the same period, some 42.5% of high school students decided to go to college, up from 32.5% in 2017.

But Covid-19 is not the only cause, according to experts.

“Due to some factors, such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there has been a mismatch between the ideal talent sought by companies and vocational high school students,” said Kim So-young, professor of economics at the Seoul National University. “More and more companies now prefer experienced workers to recent graduates, and this is also another reason why vocational high school students cannot find a job. ”

Some of these students are having difficulty even after being hired. The mistreatment and discrimination against high school graduates is a problem.

“People in my company often tell me things like ‘maybe you don’t understand this because you never went to college’ or ‘you don’t know because you never went. at university, “” said a graduate office worker. from a vocational school. “People have this prejudice against high school graduates, and I think it’s not a problem that can be resolved in a short time.”

Experts say changes in the country’s attitude towards vocational high school graduates and the recruitment system are urgently needed.

“Just like Germany does, Korea should treat high school graduates the same as college graduates in all areas, including pay, as long as they have expertise in certain sectors,” Park said. Young-bum, professor of economics at Hansung University. “Companies should adopt systems that can assess their employees based on their experience and performance in the work process, not just by exam or test. ”

BY SOHN HAE-YONG, CHEA SARAH [[email protected]]

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