The government should set a quota for the recruitment of high school graduates when hiring new employees, President Lee Myung-bak said Friday.
Presiding over a meeting on his "fair society" campaign, he strongly challenged the deep-rooted workplace practice of favoring employees by school diploma rather than by merits.
"Professional footballers just need to be good at kicking balls. They don't need to graduate from Seoul National University" Lee said, referring to the nation's most prestigious university. "Merits should count more than academic background."
He went on to say that the government should take the initiative in this campaign and draw up a drastic measure to hire more non-college graduates.
Presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha said later that Lee meant that more high school graduates should be hired at government offices and public agencies.
The presidential office will hire three non-college graduate technicians this year and three more next year, he said.
The meeting was held at a local manufacturing firm, Will Technology Co., located in Suwon, south of Seoul, which is chosen as an exemplary company for hiring many applicants who were high school graduates.
Of its 230 employees, 97, or 42 per cent, are without college diplomas.
In Korea, nearly 80 per cent of high school students proceed to tertiary education due to the widespread social practice of evaluating a person only in light of educational career.
This has led to a glut of unemployed college graduates.
During the meeting, the labor ministry reported to Lee that it will carry out measures to expand benefits for high school graduates regarding military duty and employment.
The benefits include placing vocational high school graduates in positions that require their skills when assigned jobs after boot training.
For example, males who studied mechanical engineering in high school and have an auto repair job will be given a similar assignment in the military.
All able-bodied, young South Korean men are required to serve in the military for about two years.
Employed male high school graduates will also be allowed to delay their military service or pick the date they enter the armed forces, a privilege only given to college students thus far.
Government offices and public agencies will revise personnel regulations to treat high school graduates and college graduates equally after they work at those agencies for four years, the ministry said in a press release.
Other measures include expanding state subsidies and tax benefits for companies that hire high school graduates. (from news reports)