A Comparative Analysis of Job Motivation and Career Preference of Asian Undergraduate Students

By Ko, Kilkon; Jun, Kyu-Nahm | Public Personnel Management, June 2015 | Go to article overview

A Comparative Analysis of Job Motivation and Career Preference of Asian Undergraduate Students


Ko, Kilkon, Jun, Kyu-Nahm, Public Personnel Management


This research investigates why prospective job seekers, in particular undergraduate students, prefer public sector jobs to private sector jobs. We address this question by analyzing the job motivations of such students and examining their perception of careers in the public sector. These issues pertain to a central aspect of public personnel management, as recently graduated university students are a potential recruitment pool for civil service organizations. In recent years, several other studies have begun to focus on the job motivations of prospective public employees (Bilmes & Gould, 2009; Christensen & Wright, 2011; Karl & Peat, 2004; Light, 1999; Ng & Gossett, 2013; Rose, 2013; Taylor, 2005, 2008; Vandenabeele, 2008; Vandenabeele & Van de Walle, 2008).

Attracting talented people to the public sector has been a worldwide challenge in public personnel management (Benest, 2005; Delfgaauw & Dur, 2010; Light, 2000, 2002). The rise in distrust in governmental entities and the contemporary disdain for bureaucracy has made public sector jobs less attractive, thereby deteriorating the morale of those in civil service and reducing the inflow of talented workers into the U.S. civil service (Aberbach, 1991; Bilmes & Gould, 2009; Broadnax, 2012; Light, 1999). This sort of "brain drain" in the public sector has not been a serious public personnel problem in China, Korea, or Singapore, countries that share the Confucian tradition that regards public sector jobs as a highly prestigious profession. In their developmental stage in the 1970s and 1980s, Singaporean and South Korean governmental agencies had tremendous success in attracting bright university graduates, which led to a lack of talented employees in the private sector. In China, the popularity of public sector employment has continuously increased ever since the adoption of a more modernized, merit-based civil service system from the cadre system in 1990s. Despite the historical popularity of public sector jobs, public sector employers now compete with counterparts in the private sector that offer more attractive job packages, including higher salaries and other benefits. In these Asian countries, students' job motivation in pursuing public sector employment has become more complex than before, because the private sector often offers more attractive career options. Nevertheless, research on the subject provides very little empirical data evaluating the motivators appreciated by Asian students who prefer public to private sector jobs. This article addresses three main research questions:

Research Question 1: How do different job motivations explain students' choice of pursuing public service careers?

Research Question 2: Does the administrative context reflected in students' perception toward civil service affect their career preferences in public sector jobs?

Research Question 3: Are there cross-national differences in students' motivations and career intentions? That is, does the relationship between the job motivations of prospective employees and their preference for public sector jobs hold regardless of each country's unique administrative context?

Previous studies in the Western setting reports mixed findings according to which job motivation, especially within the context of public service motivation (PSM), affects students' career intentions (Chetkovich, 2003; Karl & Peat, 2004; Ng & Gossett, 2013; Rose, 2013; Taylor, 2005; Vandenabeele, Hondeghem, & Steen, 2004). (1) In the Asian context, however, researchers observe that meritocracy based on academic achievement is the golden rule for recruiting talented employees (Frederickson, 2002; Tan, 2008), a finding which does not fully address the nature of the motivating factors that lead individuals to careers in the public sector. Although scholars have been studying career motivations for college students in the United States and in Western contexts in recent years, there has been limited research on Asian students, especially in a comparative setting. …

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