By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Picture this: 23,000 applicants, 300 civil service jobs

I am visiting Korea to attend an academic conference and to give two invited lectures to senior national and local government officials. It's my first time in Seoul since 1971, when Korea was a Third World country. The change is absolutely unbelievable.


The city actually looks somewhat richer, more modern, and less crowded (though it has 13 million people) than Taipei or even Tokyo -- Tokyo has a lot of buildings from the 1950s and 1960s that look very unmodern and ugly. The air is cleaner than Taipei, not to speak of the filthy air of mainland China. People are very nationalistic, caught in-between China and Japan.


My academic host is one of the graders for the annual Korean higher civil service exam. This is an exam for admission into an elite fast-track civil service program that my host referred to as a "Korean Presidential Management Fellows" program. What is amazing is that 23,000 young people take this exam, competing for a mere 300 places!


I asked my host, and the director of the Central Officials Training Institute, how the interest was so high. Partly, these positions are very well-paid. Students in this program start at a considerably higher grade level than a typical entry-level position for a new college graduate entering the civil service by another route; salaries are estimated at 90 percent of what large companies (the major alternative for these students) pay. Those accepted into the program are given a full year of training before starting their jobs. And young people feel they are starting jobs with a lot of prestige and influence over society. (By the way, it turns out that one of the questions on the exam this year was on the pro's and con's of outsourcing. My host told me that some of the exams had cited some of my academic writing on this subject, which was weird!)

Posted by Steve Kelman on Oct 12, 2007 at 12:08 PM


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