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S. Korea's greying workforce
Publication Date : 12-09-2013
As South Korea's population is aging rapidly, so are workers at industrial plants. The greying of the industrial workforce is cause for concern in its own right. It is all the more so when coupled with a tendency among young job seekers to shun production lines.
According to a survey released by the Institute for International Trade, the average age of people in employment is 44.8 this year, up from 40.3 in 2000. Aging is more pronounced among blue-collar workers, with their average age jumping from 40.9 to 48.3 during the same period.
In the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors, the mainstay of the workforce is people in their 60s, with the workers ages averaging 62.
In the service sector, the average age has topped 50 amid a surge in the number of middle-aged women working in sales jobs.
With the aging of production workers, the demographic structure of the nation’s industrial workforce now takes the shape of an inverted pyramid. About half of the production workers are now 50 or older, while those aged between 15 and 29 account for less than 9 per cent.
The imbalance is more serious than it looks as a significant portion of the young workers are foreign laborers who have to leave the nation someday.
This woeful situation is the result of the combination of population aging and the avoidance of production line jobs among young people.
Now, the average age of workers at the nation’s major manufacturing companies is far above 40. It will not be long before these workers begin to retire. In most companies, baby boomers ― people who were born between 1955 and 1963 ― have already started to retire in droves.
But there are not enough young workers to whom the retiring workers can pass on their skills and expertise. The result could be a “skill cliff” ― a break in the transfer of in-house skills from one generation to the next.
If many companies suffer such a problem, it could impose a serious drag on industrial progress.
To avoid it, the government needs to expand vocational training for students at nonvocational high schools who have no intention of going to university. Currently these students are not given an opportunity to cultivate job skills.
Vocational training should also be provided to college students and college graduates who have failed to find a job. The government also needs to explore ways to enable aged workers to continue to work.