Alex Jensen discuss the challenges of finding employment in a very tough job market from two perspectives. First he talks with Gordon Dudley, CEO and Founder of RDI Worldwide a B2B consultancy firm that helps companies with the acquisition of bi-lingual talents and also corporate training programs. Then Alex talks with Walter Kim (Kim Sungji) one of Seoul’s finest baristas. Alex and Walter discuss Walter’s journey of following his passion and finding the career that fits him.
Today’s episode is brought to you by The Four Seasons Hotel soul, stylish elegance in the very heart of the city.
Alex talks with Gordon Dudley about talent acquisition and management during COVID-19, then he talks with Walter Kim about following his passion towards a new career
Alex Jensen: You’re listening to Koreabizcast with the KBLA. I’m Alex Jensen. And it’s Thursday October 7. No doubt many of you will have witnessed the wild popularity of ‘Squid Game’. And as entertaining as it is the show has only barely veiled some real problems gripping Korean society, I’m sure many others globally. But why would a younger person for example want to risk everything? A tragic light is shed on that question when we consider the suicide rate among teens to those in their 30’s is going up every year in this country. Last year 3,660 people between the ages of 10 and 39 took their own lives in South Korea, we’re not going to be able to explain that by one factor. But the job situation for many younger people, for instance, is much tougher than the data would suggest at first glance on the podcast today we’ll hear from the recruitment side as well as connecting with a local coffee shop manager navigating his way to success in a way that might inspire others, and give you tips on where to get the best beams. Today’s episode is brought to you by The Four Seasons Hotel Seoul, stylish elegance in the very heart of the city.
Alex Jensen: At first glance, the pandemic job market here in South Korea doesn’t look bad. August, unemployment rate of 2.8% was actually the lowest on record. For those aged 15 to 29. It was a little higher 5.8%. But that jumps up to nearly 22%. When you include part timers or temporary workers, leading to many complaints about the lack of quality jobs for younger people, and extended financial dependence on their parents. There are a number of issues to unpack there for now. Let’s look closer at the current environment for jobs with Gordon Dudley, Founder and CEO of RDI worldwide. Gordon, it’s great to have you with us.
Gordon Dudley: Thanks, Alex, it’s great to be here.
Alex Jensen: Can we start by just learning more about what you and RDI worldwide do?
Gordon Dudley: Sure, sure. So maybe it’s good to explain that RDI stands for Research Direct International. And the kind of research that we are involved in is related with HR human resources. And the focus of our company is really in the area of talent and performance management. So, we are a company that helps people working in companies or whether it is within a kind of team context to help with their communication, whether it is more on the leadership side of things to help manage people better, or really just the fundamental kind of challenge that so many organizations have, which is acquiring best talent. So, we also have a recruiting service that we also run here.
Alex Jensen: And the recruitment side is of particular value, I think for our discussion today. Because what is your view of the Korean job environment right now?
Gordon Dudley: Well, I think it remains highly competitive as it has been for many years. And I think that generally, what we have seen is a building in flexibility. You know, if we look at the way the pandemic has affected the jobs market, in the last year and a half or so, companies have been taking a very long, hard look at how they manage their people, how they work with their people. And that means the working location, the working structure, the organization structure, all of these kind of things. So definitely a very fractious time for HR and organizations when it comes to performance management.
Alex Jensen: And I don’t know how much insight you have for other countries compared with Korea. There’s obviously the international in RDI and worldwide itself, but I also know that you’ve been based here in Korea for several years now. So is the job situation here noticeably better or worse than elsewhere? Can you comment on that?
Gordon Dudley: Yeah, so you’re right. I’ve been based in Korea since 2010, which means that now, the most significant part of my professional career has been in Korea. And that’s been split between working for one of Korea’s largest companies and now in recent years running RDI we are actually having a UK headquarters, so I do get a lot of visibility from the UK office and they work on a European level providing services to companies. So I have, I guess, a regular insight into some of the European labor markets. And as we do business in the Northeast Asia region, I do also have a lot of contact with HR managers and companies based in Singapore, based in Hong Kong, Tokyo who are covering the region. And on the whole, I do hear that a lot of the ways in which the market is currently structured the way in which the relationship between employers and employees is rather similar in Korea to Japan, in many ways, demographically, also similar. And so whilst there are some similarities in kind of local, regional level, there are definitely some stark contrasts when you compare to other countries around the world. And that has, of course, in some sense, been the facilitator of Korea to become such a strong economy in such a quick time. But it also has raised a lot of significant challenges. And if you like a negative aspect to the way of working and the working environment in Korea, specifically.
Alex Jensen: One of the major complaints is the lack of quality jobs. And I think that’s probably felt both among the companies who are trying to hire younger people, but maybe frustrated with what they are able to offer and finding a happy relationship quickly, as well as the younger people who have managed to acquire this fantastic education but want to also use that education. How can all this be addressed do you think?
Gordon Dudley: It is a really kind of interesting and important topic that is affecting all levels of society? Currently, I think the very definition of, of quality jobs is of course subjective in its own way. And so what can be the main way to provide provision of quality jobs in the eyes of as many people as possible? I think the simple answer to that is flexibility and choice. And I think perhaps the lack of flexibility and choice in the past in Korea, is maybe one of the main reasons why it has developed some negative criticism or negative aspects in the past because there were so few choices that highly qualified or qualified and educated people had when it came to using their education and getting good job opportunities. What’s really great to see and what I’m really optimistic about is the way in which there has been a mass diversification of job opportunities and organizations in Korea. Part of that’s been driven by the flourishing startup ecosystem, which has really just risen out of nowhere in such a short space of time and is providing an immense diversity of organizations and opportunities for people. But it’s also from larger organizations realizing that they are no longer the only top choices for the best candidates, the best university graduates but also top talents in more senior levels as well. And so they also begin to realize that salary alone is not the single most important factor it is, it might be the most important factor in itself but it is not by no means the only one. And so it’s really, I’m very impressed to see the way in which things are moving, all the it from a from a low base.
Alex Jensen: Traditionally speaking, Autumn is supposed to be a good time for recruitment, and I think it’s absolutely evident what you said just now that the ecosystem has changed a lot but again, from a traditional perspective, it would be younger people lining up to join one of the large conglomerates or chievo (9’13”) but is that environment particularly different now post COVID or because of anything else for you recruiting or placing people right now.
Gordon Dudley: So, the traditional way of Gongchae, the mass hiring that happens once a year is also a system that’s breaking down. companies themselves are seeing that it is not ideal or optimal to get a mass influx of people only at one time of the year, and try to place them in a some kind of massive human jigsaw puzzle into the organization. They’re realizing that they need to be a lot more flexible, that actually being able to hire talent on demand is much more fitting to their organization to be able to flex as the market changes, I think in some sense, the coming of the pandemic, that thing, which was could not be expected to be as wide and far reaching as it has become, has been a very good driving force to move that change. I think that it also the erosion of that system is also good for job seekers themselves, it means that there are more opportunities to pick up jobs at any time, whether they have had a period overseas and are coming back, whether they are fresh grads have got some internship experience in the meantime, or just they feel that they’re, it’s the right time for them to join a company. So, I think from both sides, the employer and employee, this is definitely a positive change. And I think from our perspective, in terms of how we are helping companies, you know, we are able to be that bridge between the two, to try to match the expectations, and perhaps the lack of alignment on expectations in the past in Korea has also been one of the main reasons why people have been unhappy in their jobs or at least disengaged with their work.
Alex Jensen: Very interesting to get a perspective from you, Gordon. And on the job seekers side, this is pretty anecdotal, but I have noticed a trend of people who seem to wait and wait to find their passion, per say, or they decide to delay work and study more, even when they’ve already got a university education, do you think we need to see a change in the way they approach career options, or that at least they would benefit from a change?
Gordon Dudley: So, I think people, you know, finding their passion, the single best way to do that is about experimentation, right? You can only know what you are good at, and not good at what you like, and what you don’t like by trying it firsthand. And I think that, you know, traditionally there has been a very strong peer or network recommending system, which means that somebody more senior to you suggests that there is a really great opportunity and that you should go for it. But of course, the reality is, that is absolutely not matching to your own personal tastes, experiences, goals and aspirations. And so I think the opportunity for people to experiment more without the pressure to have to get one job and stick to it, I think is a good thing. I think I you know, I also have a lot of mid-level and senior level candidates, perhaps people who have been at one company for 20 years. And they are in the eyes of other organizations, relatively unemployable. They have a very narrow skill set, they are experts in navigating the particular organization that they have been in but are actually not very well equipped for changing their organization or moving into a new area. And so that, of course, is a fantastic strength that younger generations do possess, that in the early years of their career, they move around more, they pick up more experiences, they learn new things, they get a better self-awareness, which, which I think is also a key point to success in your own career. And so being able to shorten that process by having that flexibility and opportunity to try different things is definitely a good thing, both for wider society in the long term, and also for the individual on the short term as well.
Alex Jensen: And of course, we are necessarily being fairly broad in with the nature of the discussion. I hope Gordon, we can reconnect with you on some very specific areas that I’m sure you’ll be able to offer expertise on in the future. But I would like to ask you a bit about foreign jobseekers, whether the situation would be very different, or at least quite different for them. And perhaps also for those currently abroad seeking to work in Korea. Sometimes people reach out to me and ask, what’s it like here? I think you’re better place to answer that, especially in this pandemic era we have seen some changes. How appealing is this country as a place to move to and work in right now, do you think?
Gordon Dudley: Well, if I go by the number of people contacting me interested in getting a job in Korea or thinking that they might move to Korea to build a career. Yeah, then absolutely, Korea is getting more and more attractive all the time, the number of people reaching out to me is just increased every year that I’ve been working here. And so, you know, that is from the kind of global recognition of Korea, it’s of course, you know, validated by some of the rankings where we see Korea rising in, you know, innovation and other areas that make job seekers find a place to be attractive. But I think, of course, there are definitely some very unique and specific situations that exist in Korea, when it comes to non-Koreans to foreigners working in Korea. I think that the global pandemic has on the one hand increased the thought or awareness that remote work and virtual work is a viable long-term possibility. And so that in itself means that job seekers and employees could be based anywhere and still be able to take up that work. However, that is something, that is not really taking, not really gathering steam on a global basis when it comes to actually global mobility. So yes, on a domestic level, being able to not necessarily be based in Seoul, but still work for a company based in Seoul is now more viable than ever before. I think that’s great for mobility in society, that there doesn’t have to be so much concentration on the on the downtown and central business districts of big cities. But when it comes to foreigners or non-Koreans working in Korea, you know that we have to look at the facts that Korea remains one of the most homogenous countries in the world. And there do remain significant language barriers when it comes to working in Korea. By which I mean the demand for non-English speakers is significantly lower than the requirement for Korean speakers. But that, it is incredibly difficult to really function fluently in Korean because of the nature of the business environment. And so I think the single most promising avenue for non-Koreans wanting to working in Korea is definitely within the startup scene. I think that large companies are based in Korea have processes and policies which make it difficult for them to hire people outside of the box. And of course, every non-Korean foreigner working in Korea is outside of the box. And so, we’re startups and in fact are growing and they are barrier lists so going growing globally, they are trying to reach into global markets. And so they have a need for that globality, those different languages that local market awareness and other skills which foreigners can bring. And they’re also relatively young and that makes them usually have a higher English ability, which makes it easier to work with non-Koreans and also a generally a higher global awareness. And so, for all of those reasons, the this area which is of most promise for non-Koreans working careers, definitely within startups, that doesn’t have to be, you know, one person startup, you know, who’s literally just started their business, it could already be a well-established business with 50, 100, 200 or more people. So we you know, we have to be flexible with it with the definition of startup. And definitely, there are many, many more opportunities appearing in those kind of organizations all the time.
Alex Jensen: Thanks for giving us such a good overview. Some promise, some optimism, some work, perhaps left to be done by the super established traditional companies, although as you mentioned earlier in the conversation, even they are changing their ways or seeing the light when it comes to ways of employing people. Gordon Dudley, Founder and CEO of RDI worldwide. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Walter Kim: Thank you so much, Alex. I really enjoy listening to this, this daily podcast and wish you all the best for more exciting topics coming up the future as well.
Alex Jensen: Let me say thanks again to our sponsor the Four Seasons Hotel Seoul and invite you to email email@example.com. If you want to join our community or share any ideas for future episodes. We now turn our attention to an individual making his way in this tough job environment. I first met Walter Kim working at ‘FOUR B’ coffee shop in Gwanghwamun. And after he moved on, I was curious what had happened to this enthusiastic barista with an infectious love for coffee. With a little help, I tracked him down and got to chat properly, starting by asking how he got into the coffee business in the first place.
Walter Kim: And actually, my major was bakery. So, I’d work in the bakery shop for a year. But I realize this is not my thing. Like, I felt like that I’m locked in prison, like a prisoner. So working in the kitchen with our windows customers was horrible for me. So I need more open space, not like small place. So I quit my job after one year. At that moment, my father told me ‘Why don’t you get into the coffee business?’ I think you will like it so I thought it will be fun to try. So next week, I registered coffee academy to learn how to make coffee and how to taste coffee. After finishing coffee course, I joined the Coffee Company as a barista or that’s the story of my journey of coffee in the first place.
Alex Jensen: So, it was for be the first place that you actually worked out in the coffee world?
Walter Kim: I actually second, yeah, was my second company.
Alex Jensen: Because when I met you there you came across as someone that was both passionate and actually an expert as well, which I think was a great combination. And I missed you since you left. So, what have you been doing since then?
Walter Kim: Wow, just relaxing for a while because I worked for FOUR B or maybe four and a half years so and I learned how to roast coffee beans and took pictures a lot in my free time. Now I work for new cafe as a manager, Lotte department stores Jamsil on second floor. There’s a Andar coffee bar I mean, A, N, D, A, R which is the name of the cafe. So if you want to enjoy flat wine or latte or we have a sesame latte, I mean black sesame latte, which is very famous. So if you want to enjoy just come by.
Alex Jensen: And you can get Walter’s personal advice and tips on coffee beans. Well, that’s good to hear that you’re still on the local scene. Did you? Do you feel like coffee shops have been particularly hit hard by COVID-19? I’m sure a lot of us have been continuing to get takeaways even when the coffee shops were closed for a while. But what’s your view of the industry’s impact?
Walter Kim: I think definitely yes, they’ve been hit very hard by COVID-19. But of course some coffee shops are not that much, who have lots of money compared to others but so that they could survive in the pandemic situation but most of the small roasters and small cafes are closed because of COVID-19.
Alex Jensen: There have been reports of spikes in sales of home coffee machines as well. And that is great actually, for many aspects of the coffee industry people becoming more passionate about it like I don’t feel that you necessarily stop buying coffee outside when you got a coffee machine at home. It just kind of makes you want to drink more coffee perhaps. But you do need beans. What’s the market like for finding good quality beans to use at home?
Walter Kim: The size of online market is huge here in Korea. The market is still growing bigger and bigger so it’s highly competitive market. That means you can get all the products what you want through the online including good quality of coffee beans at home. Almost every popular roaster is have their own online shop. Also you can get those beans on the online platform such as NAVER smart store, which is well known for Korean customers. It’s cheaper and much easier than visiting of offline shops. So if you want to find a good quality beans at home easily, all you have to do is just searching on the internet with your phone so you can check all the reviews and pictures have them quickly. So I think that’s it.
Alex Jensen: So do you think that’s been a natural progression with the maturing of the market here?
Walter Kim: Yeah, standard lattes and sweetened drinks are still strong. But also customers want to have dessert or bread or food with coffee in the cafe. But at the same time, like you mentioned, there is have been a radical change in the coffee industry here in Korea. The numbers of customers who interested in specialty coffee are growing bigger and bigger compared to last 10 years. Even though these trends of sweetened beverage and dessert are still strong, but I think the specialty coffee market in Korea is quite doing well. Yeah.
Alex Jensen: So for anyone who’s listening, and is more on the consumer side, where can they find the best beans? If you are giving advice, would you say online? What you suggested before is the best way or would you say actually just going into a roastery and talking to someone is also a good idea?
Walter Kim: I think you have to go there I think a must go there and talk to barista, of course. Actually, it’s hard to pick one but I can say you should visit those roasters like ‘Coffee Libre’ or ‘Namusairo’ or ‘Coffeegraffiti’. You can check on their Instagram or official website before you go there so you can enjoy well roasted specialty coffee beans from different countries over there.
Alex Jensen: Well, Coffee Libre, I know has a good website, but I know there’s one Myungdong Cathedral.
Walter Kim: Yeah, right have been there?
Alex Jensen: I have, Yeah, right. And then they have a very frequent rotation, and they seem to be really passionate about, like FOUR B, you can try single origin. Pour over coffee for a decent price. ‘Namusairo’ is also near Gwanghwamun, and it is wonderful that spell N,A,M,U,S,A,I,R,O. But what was the third one? You mentioned? Coffee, Graff?
Walter Kim: ‘Coffeegraffiti’. I mean, G, R, A, F, F, I, T, I.
Alex Jensen: Okay. Yeah, graffiti. I’ll have to check that one out. And is that also in central Seoul?
Walter Kim: Oh, yes, of course. Yeah, I think I heard they have two places. I think in Seoul, yeah.
Alex Jensen: Okay, we got a few places to look up then. I also just want to ask you where you might think there’s still room for improvement. Obviously, there’s always going to be people enjoying the sweetened coffee drinks. And I don’t want to suggest we should turn our nose up at that or anything. But aside from perhaps encouraging people to try better quality coffee, where do you think the industry here in Korea can still improve?
Walter Kim: For me, I think young owners who experienced in Australia as a barista open their own coffee own shops here in Seoul, Korea recently. They inspire young barista, and customers with passion for coffee. They are not only serving great hospitality, but also talking about why should we have specialty coffee instead of having cheap and dark roasted coffee to the customers that I think this is a good sign to me. those efforts will affect coffee market in Korea, so that they consider the climate change and global warming, which is critical damage to the coffee beans seriously. And it will change the customer’s way of consuming coffee. If we want to enjoy the coffee in the future, we must change the way of consuming coffee. Enjoying low priced coffee is not just bad for our health. It’s bad for our nature, too. So that’s why I think the young owners are doing very well. They can deliver those ideas to the customers in their cafe with a relaxed atmosphere and plus I think they can be seen as a hipster you know what I mean? Yeah, because yeah. Korean terriers? Yeah.
Alex Jensen: Anytime you get into something like coffee, or beer or anything like that, you sort of fall into that. Yeah. Have you come across James Hoffman on YouTube?
Walter Kim: Ah, yes. Yeah. Sometimes I watched the James Hoffman YouTube. Yeah, sometimes.
Alex Jensen: Yes, He is great. I would recommend him for anyone who is wanting to get into this world.
Walter Kim: You’re right. Yeah, I agree.
Alex Jensen: But thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure having you with us and I look forward to having a flat white with you soon.
Walter Kim: Yeah, me too. Thank you for having me.
Alex Jensen: Well, thanks again to Walter Kim and Gordon Dudley before that, and to the Four Seasons hotel Seoul for supporting today’s show, check out fourseasons.com/seoul. And let me wish you a great day. See you again tomorrow from seven.