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Korean engineers seek fulfillment through change

Posted: 01 Jul 2001     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:kita  dvd  voip  multimedia 

In Korea, the rate by which engineers change careers is relatively high. A 1999 survey conducted by the Korea Industrial Technology Association (KITA) among over a hundred Korean companies showed that employees in private-sector R&D laboratories change careers more often (10.8 percent) than employees in non-engineering sectors (2.35 percent).

The urge to shift jobs seems more common in the telecommunications industry, where employees move at an average rate of 17.3 percent. While the telecom and corporate lab figures do not include all engineers, they can be indicators of a seeming restiveness among engineers to find that perfect job. What are their reasons for changing careers and what exactly are they looking for?

The desire to change jobs is largely determined by personal situations and goals. The most common reasons, however, have to do with an individual's desire for a better salary, a conducive learning and working environment, and more opportunities for professional growth.

Varying patterns

Headhunters say, the decision to change careers may also be influenced by age. Employees with fewer than five years working experience shift jobs most. "Those who have less than a year's experience move because of difficulties in adapting to their work," said Kim Eun-Ju, a job consultant of Incruit Corp. "Those with three years' experience move to find better opportunities for career growth, because their companies do not support employee career development. Those with around five years' experience seek career change because of their need for stability."

Although the average engineer's salary is relatively higher than employees in other fields, many feel they are not being compensated enough—even as they are generally satisfied with the nature of their work. Salary ranges of engineers in Korea vary according to experience, specialization and company. Industry sources say that engineers with less than three years experience can earn anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 annually. More experienced engineers, naturally, are paid more. And in an extremely competitive field, engineers who have stacked up work experience have the edge.

Which is why changing jobs is attractive to young engineers because it allows them to gain more exposure—it not only looks good on a resume, but may help them earn more and establish themselves in their chosen profession.

Engineers thrive in a company that provides them with an environment where they can enhance their abilities, as well as with the technology to do their jobs well. In a profession that requires them to be knowledgeable about emerging technologies, career growth should "not be held back by outdated technology," said Kong Hyung-Ho, senior engineer of Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

To be competitive, many engineers in Korea are focusing on the hot area of multimedia—storage, DVD, VoIP, etc.—than semiconductors. "These days engineers take control of their careers for themselves," said Choi Mi-Hwa, job consultant of Brain-Plus. "When engineers feel their own technological knowledge has become obsolete, they voluntarily take up education, and apply for a position in new technology area, even with a lower salary."

Moving out of the box

However, self-development efforts should not focus solely on the technical aspect. With increasing trend among engineers to shift to management positions, having management skills and learning a foreign will come handy, particularly for those who think that growth opportunities and technology are more accessible in foreign companies or abroad. Favored locations for overseas employment are the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany and France.

Not all engineers, however, think positively of overseas employment. Oh Sung-Chan, assistant manager of Altera Korea, who said he has never considered working abroad, added, "For some engineers who concentrate on specific areas, working overseas can be an advantage. But I don't think it's true for everybody. It's very natural for engineers to prefer a workplace in which they can adapt themselves to the fast changing technologies actively."

In Korea, it is common for established engineers who have rich R&D experience, like Yim Yong-Se, senior engineer of Hanwha Communication, to dream of putting up their own technical businesses. However, this becomes less of an option because of the current recession. The existing trend for those who have more than five years' work experience is to shift to a project management or planning position in the same company. "The younger generation, those who are in their 30s, are the mainly chosen even in the technical sales area, although medium- or smaller-sized companies prefer older people who have already established a network of clients," said Choi of BrainPlus. Suh Man-Sik, job consultant of Top-Headhunter, said this supports the general idea that career change rate is relatively high among employees in their '30s in large companies and the salary growth curve goes down at the turning point of age 35. Only two to three people among twenty remain engineers for more than 20 years.

Vector for engineers

The presence of capable engineers undoubtedly can change the future of a company. However, "the overall attitude of our society toward engineering jobs still needs improvement," said a senior engineer.

"Companies tend to treat engineers as commodities," said another. "Under a recession, we even become the first victims of downsizing. Also, many companies care little about their employees and often require them to put in meaningless overtime work."

Companies, themselves, are partly responsible for this situation, and many are aware of this and are trying to address the matter. Perhaps, Korean companies would do well to make the job-changing trend among engineers work to their benefit rather than try in vain to stop it. The starting point could be better compensation and a working environment that fulfills the engineers' desire for self-improvement. Engineers, in return, should ride out of personal stagnation, and work for better opportunities and fulfillment.


Three golden rules for venture

Yoon, Young-Duk, president of Hi-Q Tech
Yoon, Young-Duk, president of Hi-Q Tech—a semiconductor wafer manufacturing company planning GaAs wafer production this year—knows what he speaks of when he declares "people" as a key component to setting up a successful venture.

Yoon said he has made much effort in gathering the right people for his team. "The core staff of eight are very experienced in the related field. There were some I already knew personally and the others, I was introduced to. I persuaded them one by one with our company's vision. Of course, I promised enough compensation."

Now his staff are all working hard with a strong sense of ownership, Yoon said. "I'm planning to hire more employees and also considering offering stock option. But the basic policy is not toward a bigger manpower, rather it's in the efficiency in making a profit."

Yoon advised that it is best to work with an experienced core managing staff. "Reflecting back on our history, we could have reduced cost and time if only I had started this business with these professionals. I learned many things in the process of business establishment, but I wish to concentrate on technical development from now on, leaving the managing matters with a professional manager."

In addition to human resources, Yoon believes technology and money are also necessary to achieve success.

"I continuously thought about establishing my own business from the time I worked for an American company in Silicon Valley," said Yoon. "However, business needs thorough preparation."

He said technical development should be completed before a new business is begun. "I started preparing in 1997 and I visited every related company for market analysis. The early capital was 200 million won, and now, enough investment has been made."

Cho Yoon Ju, Lee Ju Yeun

EE Times - Korea





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