Sunday, February 15, 2015

Korean University Jobs are not what they once were

Then and Now

Anyone who has been in a Korea for a few years (or a decade in my case) has seen the decline of the ESL industry as a whole. 10 years ago, anyone with a pulse could get a hagwon (private institute job), public school jobs were plentiful and uni jobs were being handed out like candy to those with just a Bachelor's degree and perhaps a year of experience at a public school or hagwon.

These days, even hagwon jobs seem to be pretty scarce and it seems to be a race to the bottom for the lowest salary and weakest job positions. There are just too many decently-qualified people looking for work. Public schools have been bleeding jobs for the past 3 or 4 years, with almost all middle and high-schools cutting their native English speaker positions. And of course unis-even those with a Master's degree and a few years of non-uni experience are sometimes not getting jobs.

Anecdotally, I have three friends here in Busan who've lost their jobs recently and while they've found other positions, it certainly was not without a struggle and they were competing against other quite well-qualified applicants for okay positions.

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The Glory Days are Done

What am I saying? The happy days of Korea as a prime ESL teaching destination are indeed over, much the way things went with Japan, just a few years later in the case of Korea. Only the most qualified (someone like me! Ha! Masters+Celta+Delta+years of uni experience) will get those prime uni jobs with low teaching hours, motivated students, high pay and full vacations while everyone else will be left fighting for the okay or crappy stuff. Salaries and benefits like free plane tickets and housing will keep decreasing.

My Plan

I, myself have planned my exit strategy that involves going back to Canada and changing careers because I think the writing is on the wall. I would suggest that those who are making longer-term plans, thinking that Korea is going to be a winner for English teachers should perhaps reconsider. Another country like Vietnam? Upgrading qualifications and getting into teacher training? Changing careers?  There are plenty of fish in the sea so why place your bets on the one flopping around on the dry-land?


Robert J Dickey said...

There are too many 60+ year olds teaching in Thailand, China, etc because they have to, having no retirement funds and been pushed out from their preferred jobs (Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc) due to age.

Just like government programs in US/UK/Canada/Australia/etc, the retirement programs in Korea will not be sufficient. (Still worse for those who spend their pension when they change jobs!)

If you are over 30 years of age and aren't putting money aside, at least 10% of your monthly gross in addition to what the employer withholds, you are "planning to fail."

Steve Schuit said...

In light of the rapidly changing environment you described Jackie, having a so-called "Exit Strategy" is increasingly essential. People who think they will return home and be "ESL teachers" are naive and likely literally short-changing themselves, as these jobs are usually paid poorly, and by the hour. They are offer no economic security. People need to think deeper and broader about their career goals and how to realize them. A recent article in the "Daegu Compass" Magazine featured Marsha Greenberg, a former Yeungnam University professor, who is coaching teachers on how to navigate successful transitions before they depart Korea. (Feb 2015 issue page 28).

Jackie Bolen said...

Robert...YES! It's a scary situation to be in most certainly, especially because you get pushed out of the top jobs in your 50's and 60's. 10% isn't enough I think for someone teaching overseas due to the lack of government pensions in home countries. 20-30% is far better.

Steve...yes, the job prospects back home for ESL teachers are slim to none. I for one don't want to fight 100 other people for a job that pays $15 an hour. Scary.

Unknown said...

I've been teaching in Korea since '96. My first uni job was in 98' and I have about 15 years uni experience in Korea with no less than 4 years at any one uni and 6 and a half at my previous uni.

I still get a bit puzzled when terms like 'glory days' are used to describe the past ESL scene in Korea. There were some good uni gigs, even as there are a few now, but when I look back on early experiences more Hobbesian terms like 'nasty, brutish, and short' seem to come to mind, and I was just lucky to survive. Perhaps I need to blog on it myself.

Jackie Bolen said...

Tony...maybe the quality of the jobs is similar now to what it way 10 years ago BUT, I don't think anybody could argue that they are way harder to get now. There are just way more people competing for fewer positions.