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Law and Economics

KDI Policy Forum

Enhancing Korea’s Work Competency: Focusing on Problem-solving Skills

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  • Author Yong-seong Kim
  • Date 2017/07/03
  • Series No. KDI Policy Forum No. 265 (2017-01), eng.
  • Language English
SUMMARY □ This study attempts to explore the use of and underlying issues related to problem-solving skills, a vital competency in future jobs, and policy measures for improvement.

□ An international comparison shows that Korean workers (aged 16-65) are fairly good at utilizing their skills but poor at applying those skills to solve problems at work.

- As problem solving is a key future competency, it is essential that the relevant skills are enhanced and actively utilized.

- However, insufficient education and training opportunities, poor communication and cooperation at work and a dual labor market structure could become obstacles.

□ To enhance the use of problem-solving skills at work, concerted efforts at various levels are needed, for example changing the contents and methods of educational/training programs and establishing a skill-friendly labor market structure.

- Educational/training programs need to provide more field experiences and professional knowledge as well as soft skills including collaboration, compromise and communication

- Instead of a ‘flexible adjustment of the workforce’ through easy hiring and firing, labor reforms should be implemented though a ‘flexible adjustment of working conditions’ (i.e. wages and working hours) so that both employer and employee can accumulate and fully utilize the necessary skills in problem solving in a stable employment relationship.
KDI VOD Report
As Industry 4.0 rapidly draws near,
problem-solving skills have risen to the fore as a vital future competency.

Problem-solving skills refer to
“An individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing
to understand and resolve problem situations
where a method of solution is not immediately obvious.”

According to the Survey of Adult Skills, conducted by the OECD,
Koreans are above the OECD average in terms of reading, writing, numeracy
and ICT skills, but, their ability to apply their skills to solve problems is severly lacking.

So, what are the reasons?

there are insufficient opportunities to obtain professional skills
required in problem solving.

In Korea’s case,
the number of those who have experienced learning by doing
is far below the OECD average,
implying that there is a lack of education and training opportunities in the workplace.

Korea’s work practices lack communication and collaboration.

Collaborative and communicative work practices are
closely linked to the use of problem-solving skills.

However, there is a severe lack of interaction at Korea’s workplaces,
that includes both influencing and cooperative.

And lastly,
Korea has a dual labor market, which makes it difficult for workers to fully utilize
their problem-solving skills.

In an unstable employment relationship,
workers are less motivated to use their full capacity,
while employers are less willing to provide sufficient opportunities
for training and eduction.

These tendencies are very evident in Korea,
with clear discrepancies between regular and temporary workers
in terms of the use of problem-solving skills and participation
in education and training programs.

As such,
in order to bolster investment in and the use of problem-solving skills,
efforts must be made to reform the dual labor market structure by,
for example,
flexibly adjusting working conditions, and not the workforce, to increase job security.

in order to sufficiently increase the use of problem-solving skills in the workplace,
programs such as those for Work-based Learning should be expanded
to strengthen the field-oriented contents in vocational eduction and training,
and the eduction of future generations should revolve around project-based learning.
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