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Korea: Foreign Civil Servants Still Rare
Source: koreaherald.com
Source Date: Sunday, October 24, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Korea (Republic of)
Created: Oct 25, 2010

Taking office in February 2008, President Lee Myung-bak pledged to help all sectors of the nation cope better with globalization. To achieve this, Lee pushed for reformed immigration policies, hoping to attract diverse and highly skilled workers from abroad.

At the end of 2008, Lee’s policy had resulted in the hiring of 31 foreign nationals in the public service sector, 29 of whom were in academic fields, usually as professors and researchers at public universities.

A year later, the number increased to 128 with all but five in the educational sector.

Of the five employees who worked outside the education sector, Peter Cheong and James Ryu, both Korean-Americans, work at the Financial Services Commission. Raymond Kim, also Korean-American, works in the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness. Douglas Binns teaches English at the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and Ken Crawford works at the Korean Meteorological Administration.

Noting that the number of foreign nationals in the public sector remains low, some critics have criticized Lee’s policy for being only skin deep.

But an official at the Public Administration Ministry dismissed the criticism. “Rather than the number being low, we can see it as a meaningful increase,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

”The number of contracted workers was two in 2008 and in 2009 it went up to five, which is a big increase.”

The policy, even if only skin deep, has allowed qualified individuals like Ken Crawford and Peter Cheong to bring their knowledge to Korea.

Hired last August, Crawford, vice president of the Korea Meteorological Administration, has a lot of expertise. He was scouted by the KMA to help Korea become a global leader in weather forecasting.

“I was brought here to advance the meteorological accuracy of the KMA,” said Crawford.

Before coming to Korea, Crawford was a professor at the University of Oklahoma, having worked at the U.S. National Weather Service earlier.

“My personal preference is to always go out on top, and professionally I was at the top of my game,” said Crawford.

So when the KMA approached Crawford with an offer in 2009, he accepted the challenge.

Crawford said that the KMA had a lot to work on, when he first came in, and still has a lot to work on.

Peter Cheong, deputy director for foreign press and relations at the Financial Services Commission, is also talent from abroad who came to improve Korea’s governmental sectors.

Cheong, an ethnic Korean from Canada, worked in private wealth management before deciding to move to Korea.

“I enjoyed visiting Korea as I grew older, so I decided to move here about two years ago,” said the 35-year-old.

“I applied and went through a normal hiring process.”

He is in charge of building relations with foreign investors and the media.

The ministry official said the government does not need foreigners in all sectors. “There are certain sectors that need help from foreigners more than others,” he said.

And just the fact that the government opens up the public sector to foreign employees does not necessarily mean all foreigners can accept the working conditions in Korea.

The ministry official said that many who come from abroad with families have trouble adjusting to life in Korea.

And another obstacle is the language barrier.

“Communication is extremely important. So for those who come to Korea without knowing any Korean, they must be frustrated themselves.”

The government is not in charge of hiring foreigners for each of its sectors. They simply get updated on who is hired where.

“If you look at it, the sectors that need foreigners are definitely taking advantage of the policy,” the ministry official said in a possible reference to the 123 foreign employees at universities.

In the private sector, especially top electronics firms, companies have diversified their workforce, hoping to give themselves an edge in a globalized economy.

LG Electronics, one of the more progressive firms when it comes to hiring, has four foreign nationalss on their 10-member executive board.
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