02:14 (GMT +7) - Wednesday 26/09/2018

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Fitting together

Released at: 07:53, 24/12/2017 Vietnam - South Korea Relationship

Fitting together

Photo: Viet Tuan

Vietnamese employees are presented with good opportunities when working at South Korean companies but the lack of skilled workers in an issue for the latter.

by Ngoc Lan & Quynh Nguyen

When moving to northern Thai Nguyen province to work, Mr. Nguyen Van The, a 28-year-old office worker at the province’s Samsung Electronic Vietnam, had a little difficulty adapting to his new surroundings. He was helped, though, by many of his colleagues at the company and also by its South Korean management team. Mr. The is just one of many people with an interesting tale to tell about working for a South Korean business in Vietnam.

South Korean bosses 

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Hanoi to work in Thai Nguyen province in 2015, the problems Mr. The faced were with his new living environment, while overall he had very few problems during working hours. “Everyone speaks in Vietnamese, while my manager can communicate with staff and partners in both Vietnamese and English,” he said. He has adapted to his new job much more quickly than he expected, with help from his manager. “I have been impressed by my manager, as he is very nice but also quite fastidious,” he said. “During my three-month probation period, he directly observed my work, and if I didn’t meet his requirements he corrected me. I’m now accustomed to the job, thanks to his help.” Indeed, South Korean managers are known for mixing high expectations with fairness.

After being transferred to Samsung SDIV in northern Bac Ninh province last year, Ms. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lan has also been impressed by her manager. She still lives in Hanoi but commutes to Bac Ninh and back every day by bus. “My boss knows a lot of things, and often shares his knowledge with his staff, for example about the most succinct and straightforward way to write a report,” she said. Working at Samsung SDIV is a good opportunity for her and each day provides an interesting experience. She also has the chance to practice her Korean and better understand the South Korean working style.

Ms. Hoang Thanh Le, who works at South Korea’s TCE Vina Denim Co. in her homeland of northern Nam Dinh province, said she is very satisfied with the salary the company offers. She studied for three years in South Korea, which she said gives her an advantage. “Most skilled South Korean-speaking workers only want to develop their careers in big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, while many South Korean-invested companies have factories in the provinces, which have lower production and labor costs,” she said. “I therefore decided to work at a South Korean company in my homeland, and am paid a good salary.” 

Many enterprises have looked to Vietnamese workers returning from South Korea, as they are familiar with the country’s culture and working environment and have some knowledge of the Korean language. “In addition to a starting salary of VND10 million ($440) a month, the company offers benefits such as overtime and a year-end bonus,” Ms. Le said.

Working together does, however, involve some effort. “My boss and I try to understand each other’s culture in both life and work,” Mr. The said. “For example, on national holidays in Vietnam, the company sends its best wishes and gives gifts to employees, while the employees also try to understand the character and style of their bosses, so that work is done efficiently.” Ms. Lan said that sometimes she has debated issues about her job with her boss. “I realize now that South Koreans often speak concisely, while Vietnamese people are the opposite, so differences in opinion can be misunderstood.” 

Seeking quality

In Vietnam, most sectors with South Korean investment need Korean-speaking employees, with the greatest demand seen in the electronics manufacturing sector, especially for interpreters and assistants. As at the end of June, South Korea had surpassed Japan to become the largest foreign investor in Vietnam, with total registered capital of $54.7 billion to date, accounting for 18.1 per cent of the total. In the first eleven months of 2017, South Korean investment in Vietnam reached $8.18 billion, or 24.7 per cent of all foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country, according to the Foreign Investment Agency (FIA) at the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

South Korean investors, in general, comply with the laws of Vietnam and implement their projects on schedule. Many projects from leading South Korean corporations such as Samsung, Lotte, LG, Doosan, Kumho, Posco, Lotte, GS, and Hyosung have proven effective and have created nearly 700,000 jobs. As South Korean FDI continues to flow into Vietnam, recruitment demand has increased significantly, bringing more employment opportunities to Vietnamese workers. 

In the opinion of South Korean enterprises, besides employing ordinary workers, they now need a large number of high-quality employees with workplace skills and a working knowledge of the Korean language. They are willing to pay from $1,000 to $2,500 per month, which is similar to salaries in their home country. But most Vietnamese workers only finished high school, while engineers and other university graduates lack professional skills and practical knowledge and fail to acquire knowledge from technology transfers. 

The number of workers meeting the conditions set by South Korean enterprises remains limited, making recruitment a difficult task. In particular, South Korean companies in the north of Vietnam face a lack of Korean interpreters, with many recruiting in the south and bringing successful candidates to the north. According to the Chief Engineer at Huvis Water Vietnam Co., Mr. Kim Tae Hyeong, there is a serious shortage of human resources with experience working at multinational companies. “If you have four or five years of experience at multinational companies, it is a competitive advantage for you later on,” he said.

Concerns among South Korean investors about the quality of Vietnamese workers are reflected in figures from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA). According to a recent report from its Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs, Vietnam’s unemployment rate has been stable for the last five years and only increased slightly in the second quarter of this year, from 1.96 per cent to 2.26 per cent. The concern, however, relates to the general low quality of Vietnamese workers, only 23 per cent of whom have diplomas or certificates. “Vietnam’s labor market is still lacking, and the target of a sustainable workforce in the country faces many obstacles,” said Mr. Dao Quang Vinh, Director of the Institute of Labor Science and Social Affairs.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Vietnam is and will be one of the countries most influenced by the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). It will continue to face many challenges regarding the quality of its human resources, such as low technical qualifications, while productivity is lower than in many other ASEAN countries. 
The employment of largely unskilled workers will be put at risk from Industry 4.0. Many jobs will disappear, replaced by new jobs that require certain skills. In the face of automation replacing people, the latter must be equipped with knowledge and skills that meet the requirements of the new age.

Recognizing the importance of training human resources, South Korea’s SJ Tech Vietnam Co., which specializes in producing LCD blankets and mobile phone accessories, has implemented a number of training programs for their Vietnamese workers as part of their expansion plans. “Our company offers Korean language training to enable easier communications,” Mr. Jeon Wooik, CEO of SJ Tech Vietnam, told VET. “Over the next two years, we will also offer more attractive employment policies to retain talent and attract more skilled workers, to meet demand for our expansion and development.”

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