Friday, 22 August 2014

Korean Company Rookie Training Bootcamps Wasting Time, Money and Talent.

Korean corporate culture and rookie training

I knew I was going to leave my Korean company job within a year after the first month of work. This sounds extreme but completely acceptable if you have experienced the rarely talked about boot camp style training new graduate workers in Korea are faced with when entering a typical Korean conglomerate. Known as hapsook kyoyook (합숙교육) or 합숙훌련 it refers to what is essentially a boot camp style training program to induct new graduates into a company. To describe it in the extreme would be to liken it to some sort of religious retreat or cult but instead of a religion I was being sold a company culture - it's core values, it's way of working, it's expected standards and it's ethics.

Oddly enough as a foreigner in Korea being part of such a program is still one of my most valuable experiences. Most foreign employees in Korean companies are recruited at the manager or above level - for obvious reasons in that they can provide useful experience and know-how to the office. So as you can imagine for a Korean company to hire a foreigner and place them into the Korean 'rookie' system and training is something very uncommon. It was admittedly an interesting experience but it also succeeded in alienating the young workers and set me on a path of leaving the company before I had even really "joined" it.

A common timetable of these boot camps usually occur in the first month of being hired and typically last from anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks. This also includes a final week back at the office for on the job training related activities. During those 2-3 weeks young workers as a group (my particular experience was 15 of us) are taken to an off-site development center. Another unique part of Korean corporate culture is the operation and ownership of what are essentially school camp type facilities with shared bedrooms and a mess hall located in a secluded area of Korea typically outside of Seoul. Here we were to stay during early December for 2 weeks - just out in time for Christmas thankfully. We spent 14 days straight - that is we were not allowed off site the entire time, weekends were no longer ours nor was the night. Forget 9-5 this was 6am-2am. For two weeks that doesn't sound too bad but instantly many Korean companies are setting up their young workers for disappointment, confusing them with mixed messages and losing potential talent.

After being lured to large companies under the premise that they understand and accommodate to workers needs the first message these large companies are erroneously sending to their impressionable newbies is that our own time will not be respected - rather it is now company time. Sacrificing personal time of nights and weekends is a sacrifice we must make if we wish to succeed. On top of this the daily schedules were horrendous - 6am wake ups for 30 minute exercise sessions. shower and then breakfast at 7. Classes then begin at 7:30 and run until 12 when there is again a 30-45 minute break for lunch. Then more classes until 7 when it's finally dinner! Now when I say classes I am not referring to anything of academic use - these classes are full of what is essentially time fillers. Using guides to see what kind of personality we have; learning techniques for "smart working" which are concepts that we have all learnt at university or my personal favourite learning how to create idea-maps (Didn't we learn how to brainstorm in primary school?).

After dinner it is then onto group projects which have no real value or meaning other than to train us to work together (something that we have also done already in university for 4 years). During such time understandably sleep deprived rookies are feeling stressed to produce a good final product - We all know deep down that the actual content of the project is not of use to the company but we were unable to relax because there was a perceived and also very real pressure from the training supervisors to produce a high quality of work otherwise our newly found jobs could be at risk. Companies are instantly alienating their future leaders by placing passive aggressive pressure on young workers to produce the goods or lose their jobs.

I am so critical of this process not just because for 2-3 weeks I only got 3-4 hours of sleep a night but because the obvious aims of such a program can and should be achieved without the nasty side effects. These programs like any workshops generally have the over-arching goal to help employees bond. In this particular case the group bonded fantastically and despite leaving the company I am friends with many of them today - however the reason we all bonded was because every night we all gathered after we had finished our work for the day (usually after midnight) to sit around and have a chat which we would have loved to have done with a beer but unfortunately alcohol was off limits as well. The topic of conversation? How we were so tired and hated the training - which naturally would lead anyone to eventually disliking the company and its system. From the get-go a company wishing to instill its core values of efficiency, respect, happiness and the such into young workers is instead doing the exact opposite and showing them how to be unproductive workers (waste the day, work all night); distilling the message that the company comes before their own personal life and giving them no confidence in their job security instantly breaking any trust between company and worker.

The nail in the coffin was when the previous rookie group now one year older joined us for one evening to talk about their experiences at the company. An exercise designed to show us the potential was ill advised. Around 8 workers showed up and I asked jokingly "How many have left already" to which I got a very honest answer "About half will leave". In hindsight he was wrong; around 35% of the original group have left that company but it's a common sentiment for many young Koreans and a growing problem for Korean companies. According to a June survey by the Korea Employers Federation of 405 companies nationwide, 25.2 percent of new hires left their first job within a year of employment, compared to 15.7 percent in the organization’s 2010 study.

This is a staggering figure considering the time and money invested by young workers into getting a job. It also presents a major cost for companies with lost investment and high recruitment costs. No doubt the aforementioned bootcamps are one of those significant costs but in my exprience it was a rather over-inflated, expensive exercise that did nothing to onboard workers rather it treated them like children.


  1. Replies
    1. 한국어로 번역중인데요..
      주제 고민하다가 추미님 도와줬네요.

      '좆같은 신입 합숙교육' ㅋ

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Well said, sir. *Applause*