It's Time for Change in the Government's Personnel Hiring System
It's Time for Change in the Government's Personnel Hiring System
  • Jung-In Bae
  • 승인 2010.11.11 13:38
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First and foremost we need to review the corruption of the former Minister before taking up the main subject. On July 1st, the former Minister's daughter failed the documentation requirements to become a civil servant because she submitted an out-of-date TEPS report card. Other applications also automatically failed because of her. Then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advertised that hiring for the position would reopen on July 16th. The ministry received applications for 26 days after the second announcement of the job opening in order to give Yu's daughter enough time to present a valid TEPS report card. This period is much longer than the usual 10-15 days. In conclusion, the ministry selected only Yu's daughter from the applications received during the extension. This scandal came as a big shock to all of us. However, this is not the first time that a situation like this has occurred.

Transition Process of the Government's Personnel Hiring System

Public officials were appointed through the spoils system or patronage in the past. Political opinions or personal connections were more important than actual ability during that period. In Korea, the spoils system was rampant in the 1950s, but it was not supposed to have any bearing on personnel issues. Officially, personnel issues are based on the merit system, but in many cases this is just for show. In order to establish a real merit system the Government Officials Act was completely revised in 1949. The merit system has become a major system of appointment, so the number of applicants has increased sharply. This has happened in Korea for a couple of reasons. One is that Korea has entered an era of limitless competition, so the concept of a lifelong workplace has disappeared these days. Most companies also prefer applicants with working experience, so opportunities for employment are getting scarcer and scarcer. Public official positions, on the other hand, are desirable due to their stability and collateral benefits.

In August 2010, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security announced a plan to reform the public official recruitment system which is centered on civil service exams for the first time in about 60 years. The current main hiring channel called the Senior Civil Service Exam has many merits, but it also has weaknesses. The most glaring one may be that it is not suitable for hiring specialists. It tests an applicant’s knowledge in the required subjects without taking into account his or her expertise. The current system should be diversified in order to make public officialdom more flexible and lay the foundation for utilizing expertise in a more organized way. However, this plan has faced strong opposition from lawmakers of both the ruling and opposition parties as well as citizens. The main reason is the hiring scandal at the foreign ministry. Objectors claim the plan to hire professionals based on subjective evaluations will only benefit the privileged. This plan also does not consider the matter fully between the government and ruling party. The ministry failed to revise the system in the end.


The Current Government's Personnel Hiring System in Korea

The Korean government's personnel hiring system is divided into competitive open recruitment and special recruitment. Competitive open recruitment is intended for unspecified individuals. Applicants are selected for jobs on the results of a competitive examination. There are Public Administration Examinations, the Foreign Service Examination, and the 7th and 9th grade Civil Servants Examination. Special recruitment is based on professional development or experience in specific areas. People are judged based on certifications, education, work experience and so on.

There are several realities dealing with this system today. Positions awarded based on the 7th and 9th grade civil servant examination are highly competitive. Due to the fact that these tests are easier than the senior civil service exam, and people think they just need 1 or 2 years to prepare for them. One of the biggest problems is that many people have misconceptions about being a public official. Many people deem public officialdom as a way to be upwardly mobile. About 100,000 people take the state examination annually. In 2010, 7th grade civil servants examination was hired at a rate of 1 out of every 115.4 applicants. Because of this, other fields suffer from a lack of talent. The state examination has led to the spread of elitism, and it hinders diversity and specialization in public officials. For this reason, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security tried to reform the system but to no avail. They only managed to change the title of the exam. The ministry decided to maintain the current special recruitment rates. The reform is an essential element for hiring talented people diversely. It continues to be difficult to reform the system. As soon as news gets out, people rise up in major opposition. Therefore, we will examine recognition points through the examples of other countries.

Personnel Hiring System of Other Developed Countries

First, the Japanese government's personnel hiring system is very similar to Korea’s. Japan also selects public officials through state examinations. Japanese people take their exams under the supervision of the National Personnel Authority. In France, most senior civil servants make up the Ecole nationale d’ administration (ENA) which provides professional training for senior civil servants. Each government department hires public officials frequently, but the officials are divided up into A, B, and C categories according to their academic ability. Singapore selects all officials through open recruitment. Open recruitment means the government aggressively scouts outsiders. They distinguish between high-ranking government officials and low-ranking government officials, and the pay is commensurate with rank. The Singaporean government signs a contract with graduate students who have good grades and pass the interview. There is a program to cultivate high-ranking government officials in Singapore. The US government's official hiring system is somewhat like Singapore's system. They are encouraged to select outsiders as high-ranking government officials. When a position is vacated, each department hires new officials on their own. The US has the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program and New Senior Fellowship (NSF) program. PMF is a middle-ranking recruitment system. The ministry hires students who receive a recommendation from their university after an interview and a writing proficiency exam. High-ranking officials are hired through NSF. These countries have common problems in their personnel hiring system. The biggest problem is that particular classes occupy most of public officials positions. Japan selects about 2,000 people a year, and each department chooses the best people among them. This system favors specific universities such as Tokyo University. One reason why specific groups occupy most positions is the future of public officials is secured by only one exam. In France, public officials hired through ENA cause side effects as they become stratified. ENA exerts a huge influence. The percentage of working class freshman is decreasing steadily in ENA.

Countermeasures of Each Country

In order to solve this problem, some developed countries are already attempting to reform their personnel hiring system. The Japanese Democratic Party decided to push ahead with a reform system. It's their goal to make it enforceable by 2012. This system focuses on the abolition of closed bureaucracy and increased flexibility in the personnel hiring system. It gives positive consideration to abolishing first class examinations, and they seek ways to classify according to the type of work such as policy planning, the transaction of business, and specialized jobs. In brief, Japan is trying to diversify its method of selecting public officials and adopt more competitive concepts. France abolished the ranking of graduation in ENA. The ranking system provides a chance for students to choose a department according to grade. The government has introduced a customized selection system that considers aptitude and professionalism. The period of training has been reduced from 27 months to 24 months, and the curriculum has changed fundamentally toward more practical education. In addition, the students of ENA also must take an examination. There are contract workers who take part in special recruitment, but the government has established open recruitment rules. The US has created amendments to the External Pressure Prevention Act. The new order severely hires new officials through an open recruitment process. Each department suggests detailed conditions such as the performance of their duty, academic ability, qualification of career, and pay level.


The Korean government’s personnel hiring system have hardly seen any reform in the past sixty years. The time was not yet ripe for reform, and the government couldn't mobilize public opinion. Reform plans have left much to be desired, and the government has no consideration for reality. The current system is not perfect, but unplanned reform can be like a poison. Although the government pushes ahead with plans for advancing, reform does not occur in a moment. The purpose for reform must always be considered. Developed countries that have already achieved reform also have these problems. Therefore, Korea should examine the reform plans of other countries, and we have to create the government's personnel hiring system that best suits our society.

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