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Civil Licenses: Nothing But Gimcracks

The majority of university students prepare for employment, and they try to acquire as many licenses as possible for their future jobs. Retired elders also try to earn licenses for employment after leaving from previous jobs due to age. Despite these efforts, there is a high number of licenses that are not officially recognized by the government. Moreover, these are not helpful for job preparations, and they only take away time and money from job seekers. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) investigates the current status of the unofficial licenses in Korea, and finds possible changes in the near future for the present system.

Licenses in Korea

Management of Licenses in Korea

Civil licenses, or licenses not officially accepted by the government, are published by private institutions. Civil licenses were introduced in Korea in 1997 with the enactment of the Framework Act on Qualifications. Then, in 2007, the Civil Licenses Registration System was introduced due to outnumbering civil licenses available for those without any qualifications. With the introduction of the Civil Licenses Registration System, the government was able to manage the civil licenses by selecting several areas in the industry, prohibit private institutions from issuing civil licenses, and set qualifications for those wanting to issue civil licenses for people. Furthermore, information about specific civil licenses was open to the public after the introduction of the Civil Licenses Registration System. Despite these efforts, the number of civil licenses escalated rapidly. At present, by September 1, there were 21,888 civil licenses open for the public. On the other hand, there were only 100 official licenses. The number of civil licenses has increased nearly 40 times after 2008, one year after the introduction of the Civil Licenses Registration System. Due to the fact that there are more than 21,000 civil licenses circulating in society, there are many licenses with the exact same names. For instance, there are more than 1,000 civil licenses with the name “Geriatric Counselor.”

segye.com/ Number of Civil Licenses in Korea

How Is It Possible?

First and foremost, private institutions avoid being classified as official license issuance organizations because the process of becoming such an organization is complicated and time- consuming. In fact, only ten percent of the applicants to become the official license issuance organizations were accepted by the government after the introduction of the Civil Licenses Registration System. Despite the introduction of the Civil Licenses Registration System, registering as an institution to issue civil licenses is considered easy. When applying, the candidate has to prove that they, whether a person or an institution, do not have past criminal records, prepare documents to show that the candidate does own or has not loaned the testing center and lastly, prove that the rule book for the tests is available. Moreover, the candidate needs to avoid selecting areas that the government has specifically prohibited. While there are many new licenses, there are numerous licenses which are also disappearing. For the past five years, there have been around 1,700 licenses that were disqualified as they could not pay \18 thousand (around $17) as an annual tax.

Specific Issues

Exaggerated Advertisements

Those organizations which issue civil licenses use exaggerated marketing to lure job seekers. They use phrases such as “you can get a job after studying for only one week,” “you can get a job in major companies,” or even “our license is registered in the government.” Most of these phrases are not correct since most major companies do not accept civil licenses as components of a résumé. Despite the falsities, desperate job seekers study to earn these rather unhelpful civil licenses in the hopes of getting a job in a frantic situation. In fact, there are only few who knew that their licenses were indeed civil licenses. According to a Korea Consumer Agency research conducted in 2015, out of 300 adults who participated in the survey, 81% answered that they acquired the licenses to get jobs, but only 21.9% knew that their licenses were civil licenses. Moreover, 61.3% of answers showed that the licenses they had thought as official were actually civil licenses. There had actually been a case of a job seeker who suffered from civil licenses. One student, who was scheduled to graduate, was looking for a license in order to fill his résumé. He was able to find a license as a “Consultant on School Violence Prevention.” The student was lured by the explanation that he could obtain his license in one week, and that the license provided an optimistic future. Therefore, the student earned his license after one week, but when he was writing his résumé, he discovered the license was actually not recognized by companies. There are many similar cases in which organizations attract numerous job seekers through exaggerated advertisements, but there are nearly no punishments by law.

Lack of Management

Civil Licenses are not accepted by the government, but only registered to it. The government does not look into specific details of the civil licenses and only checks whether the candidates meet the qualifications. Therefore, as mentioned above, there are numerous licenses in one single area. For example, in case of licenses regarding origami, there are licenses such as “Origami Craft Licenses,” “Origami Teaching License,” “Origami and Book Art Teaching License,” and “Origami and Paper Modeling License.” The problem extends further to the point that there is no decisive standard on the levels between the civil licenses. Each organization that issues a license has its own set of standards of levels, and its own names. For instance, some licenses have levels such as level one, two, and three, while other licenses may have levels such as beginner, intermediate, and expert. Even if one holds a civil license with a certain level, it is hard to define the extent in which the holder knows about the subject. Parameters like the Common European Framework Reference for Languages (CEFR) are necessary in order to clarify the fluency level of the subjects and to lessen the confusion among the job seekers.

Economic Pressure

There are courses and lectures available to obtain civil licenses, and these courses require economic resources. For job seekers, the fee for these courses is burdensome as job seekers mostly earn income from unstable part-time jobs, or receive allowance from their parents. In order to get a license one needs to pay around \300 thousand. Job seekers, especially young students, are already paying a massive amount of fees for many other various purposes. According to the Korea Consumer Agency, from 2011 to 2015, there had been more than 8,000 cases of consulting about the financial difficulties caused by civil license courses, and the total cost of damage was summed up to more than \124 million. Even worse, the courses, in general, have questionable quality, because most of the courses are only done through online lectures and many of the lecturers do not have trustworthy qualifications. There had also been several criticisms on these courses that the teaching material of the courses itself is generally quite shallow. Many of the courses also do not have any on-field training. If there are licenses, for instance, for school violence consultants, the course taker does not have any on-field training sessions in schools, or in other institutions. In other words, it is possible to say that job seekers are paying quite the sum of money to learn superficial knowledge.

Possible Changes

Classifying the Official and the Civil Licenses

Many of the job seekers have to first think about whether the license they have acquired is suitable for their future career. Having unnecessary licenses would be a discouraging factor for the employee. Most of the civil licenses are unhelpful, and some companies only allow official licenses to be written in the résumé. Therefore, job seekers need to double check whether the licenses they are studying for is a civil license or an official license formally recognized by the government. Anyone can check whether his or her license is recognized at the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training (KRIVET), which provides information about official licenses.

Changes in the System

While job seekers need to double check their licenses, the government should also make changes to the current system. The government at present is not taking any aggressive measures regarding the civil license issue. Unfortunately, only one member of the National Assembly pointed this issue out this August.

One of the biggest reasons most people do not distinguish between the civil and the official licenses is that the official name of the civil license is confusing. The formal name of the civil license is “Government-Registered Civil License.” Having the term “government” makes the license sound as if it is recognized by the government, and most of people accept it as such. The formal name of civil licenses should change, removing the term “government” so that it does not sound official.

The government should also continuously expand areas in which civil licenses cannot be issued. At present, there are 54 areas in which the government prohibited the issuance of any civil license. Areas where the public pays a hefty amount of interest should be added. For instance, yoga has gained popularity in Korea recently, and many people are learning yoga for their health. What is surprising is that there are no licenses recognized by the government regarding yoga. Most of the yoga trainers received civil licenses from private institutions, and there is a possibility that one of such civil licenses was received after only minimal online training. This means that people will not know how the trainer had learned yoga, and this will likely lower the quality of training. Therefore, the government should expand its selection of areas where civil license has not been issued.

The requirement to issue the civil licenses is another subject that must be discussed. Even though the Civil Licenses Registration System is meant to raise the standards for issuing licenses, the rapidly increasing number of licenses has shown that government’s intentions were not achieved. The government should evaluate the private institutions and establish stricter requirements for private institutions to issue civil licenses. Such changes could include more testing centers and more detailed rules.

The cost and the number of victims cannot be ignored. It is time to check the quality of the courses. The review should focus on the knowledge level of the courses, the qualification of the lecturers, and the availability of offline or on-field training. There could even be surveys about the courses. For example, a survey could ask whether the courses were satisfying and helpful for the job seekers, and whether the license really did help in their future careers. The civil license can then be disqualified, or the issuance of civil licenses could be prohibited for a certain period, if there are little positive results.

Finding jobs is becoming tougher, but there are more people seeking for a new career. These unofficial licenses have confused many people. At present, there are over 20,000 licenses that are not recognized by the government. The licenses, which are not necessary and just ostentatious, should be expelled, and there should be modifications in the current system and the management of licenses.

김동환  kimdh155@skku.edu

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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