Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Position Islands on the Career Sea: An Evaluation of the Open Competitive Position System in Korea

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Position Islands on the Career Sea: An Evaluation of the Open Competitive Position System in Korea

Article excerpt

There are two basic models for core public service employment in countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): "career-based" and "position-based." (1) In career-based systems, civil servants are expected to stay in the civil service throughout their working lives. Initial entry is based on academic credentials and/or a civil service entry examination. This sort of system is characterized by limited possibilities for entering the civil service at mid-career and by a strong emphasis on career development. Position-based systems, however, focus on selecting the best suited candidate for each position, whether by external recruitment or internal promotion. They allow more open access, and lateral entry is relatively common.

No current civil service in the OECD countries is a pure example of either the career-based or position-based type. There seems to be a tendency for each system to adopt some processes from the other to mitigate the weaknesses to which each system is prone. (2) Korea can be seen as a typical example of operating the two systems in the same grades or levels at the same time in government organizations.

Korea has traditionally had the strong characteristics of a career civil service system. Its origin dates back to the Kingdom of Unified Silla era about 1,200 years ago. During this era, King Wonseong (AD 788) operated a national examination system, a kind of limited competition system used to select civil servants. The system allowed only people who had finished studying classics such as the Analects of Confucius to take the examination. (3) Until the 19th century, Korea had a class system. Under this system, only the privileged class could enter the government. Becoming an official meant achieving good social status and economic welfare. This tradition survived even after the class system was abolished and no constraints were left on the qualifications to enter the civil service. (4) The modern civil service system began in 1949 with the legislation of the National Civil Service Act. It was renovated through a series of innovations. Nevertheless, its basic characteristics did not change much until 1990s. (5)

The basic characteristics of the Korean civil service system are a closed system in recruiting and rank-in-person system. The government rank-in-person is composed of nine grades, from Grade 9 to Grade 1 (the lower the number, the higher the position), and new entrance through the open competition examination applies to only three kinds of grades: Grade 5 (junior manager level), Grade 7 (principal clerk level), and Grade 9 (clerical level). The Korean government has created an environment to attract competent young people with open competitive examinations. (6) Anyone who wants to be a civil servant is eligible for the civil service entry examination, regardless of academic background, previous career, gender or social standing. The exam result is the only criterion to determine who will work for the government. Once civil servants are appointed, they are employed up to a certain retirement age under this system, regardless of job performance. Promotion is based on a system of grades attached to the individual rather than to a specific position. Since it is hard to enter the higher grades directly from the outside, the important positions, such as Grade 4 to Grade 1, are filled internally.

For a long time, the state-led development strategy was effective in achieving rapid economic growth in the period of industrialization, and the Korean government didn't seem to have a significant problem in recruiting competent people in the labor market. However, the traditional Korean civil service was incapable of success in a rapidly changing environment. In 1997, the foreign exchange crisis led to a severe slowdown in the economy, and the lack of competitiveness was thought to have contributed to the economic crisis. (7) The Korean civil service has been criticized for its lower levels of competitiveness and productivity compared with the Korean private sector. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.