During the interview, the participants answered the same general open-ended questions about their educational background, ideas regarding public health, social work, and psychological counselling services in the current South Korean environment, expectations to do with their degrees, personal goals, the social expectations of the public health, social work, and psychological counselling services professions, governmental policy toward the public health, social work, and psychological counselling services industries, and so on. Although all had similar interests in the fields of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services, some of their shared experiences, lived stories, and financial considerations were not the same. The situation in South Korea is unique. As a small region with a large population, people’s lifestyles, family structures, conceptions, and understandings may have many common grounds while also having many differences due to geographic elements. To answer the research question in a structured order, this section is categorized into three themes and four subthemes based on the interview transcripts and information from the participants. Table 2
outlines the themes and subthemes of this study.
3.1. Public Health, Social Work, and Psychological Counselling Services-Related Positions are not Available
The high percentage of hospitality employment reflects that most available positions are in a single industry. Professionals from other fields are less likely to expand their expertise in their own fields. In the current study, all participants were in the field of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services, where employment is less likely to be found in the business and non-profit sectors.
All participants had public health, social work, or psychological counselling services degrees from overseas institutions, but none of them were able to work in public health, social work, and psychological counselling services-related positions due to the shortage of opportunities. All except Participant#8 and Participant#9 believed the government did not emphasize the public health, social work, and psychological counselling services industry enough. They referred to the current public health, social work, and psychological counselling services environment as a “desert” to reflect the lack of support. Participant#9, who had a psychological counselling degree, but was working as a restaurant servant, asserted the dead-end nature of the counselling services environment, saying, “the hotels kill all other professionals. The tourism industries are the big dragon. No one in the city even supports psychological services.” Participant#2 echoed this negativity, saying, “I tried to ask the Government Department for support for the support of sexual minorities’ services for foreign residents in Seoul…not a hard request, but only negative news.” Participant#10 also expressed that there were no opportunities for recent graduates, saying,
…for those who want to join the field, there are only two ways, either start your own non-profit or enter the government. Public health, social work, and psychological counselling are not easy jobs…in South Korea, even if I graduated from a top-tier university, there are no positions…it depends on internships and networking…at least I don’t have savings to start my own [organization]. Even if I do have millions, I cannot recruit all graduates…
Participant#12’s academic background was similar to Participant#10’s (e.g., psychological counselling), but Participant#12 worked in the surveillance office due to his video-related skills (i.e., academic minor). Although Participant#12’s working position was related to video, the job specifications and responsibilities were not the same as for public health, social work, and psychological counselling services, as Participant#12 explained, saying, “Looking at the camera for potential cheating is not the same as making meaningful and enjoyable videos for the minorities in my country. I cannot say I entered into the public health, social work, and psychological counselling services, this is hospitality…” Participant#3 asserted that many orphanages and religious churches are operating in South Korea. Although a few places recruit people without networking and connections, as Participant#3 said, “South Korea is an international region…but the governmental agencies and large-size non-profit organizational heads recruit their own team members…for us…there are no openings.” Participant#5 and Participant#6 were hotel front line attendants at the same company. Both used the statement “no future, no dream for our public health, social work, and psychological counselling services career” as an ironic pun on the hotel’s slogan. Participant#7 somehow used his professional skill to make fun of his current position saying,
I wish I could leave this meaningless position in valet parking. But I am glad that I can laugh in front of all customers all the time. At least I learnt social work skills. Even if I don’t want to work, I must work for basic living.
Participant#4 continued to seek openings as a professional in the fields of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services in the near future, but his expectation of potential opportunities in public health, social work, and psychological counselling services was weak, as he explained, saying,
The government said there are rooms to open our center. But it has been four years. I want to go back to public health, social work, and psychological counselling services. But can I come back? I am afraid six years later I will not have the courage to leave my position in this hotel.
Participant#8 did not express much negative thinking about her position, but believed professionals in the field of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services should able to take hardship, saying,
I understood there were no opportunities once I graduated. This was my own choice…I cannot work as a professional in the field of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services now. But I can enjoy chatting with my customers in the hotel. I can help my customers and other co-workers at my workplace…But this is very stupid…I have my professional skills in the field of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services…But I cannot use my multilingual skills and professional skills to help the correct minorities and people who are suffering from pain…
Participant#11 worked in the marketing department. The department relied on Participant#11’s photographic and art therapy skills to put pictures in emails. She said, “my responsibilities are 20% related to my public health, social work, and psychological counselling services profession, particularly art therapy. All footnote pictures at the bottom of emails in my department were my art. But I am only responsible for typing and responding to emails between my company and customers.” Participant#1 was the only participant who was not working in the hospitality and hotel industry. Her viewpoint was slightly different from the others’, who were working in the hospitality industry, saying,
…I enjoy working as an administrative assistant. I can coordinate some printing workshops with the center users and members. I don’t think I can open my center because I don’t understand how to operate a counselling center. I would rather use the money for my down payment…for my apartment and unit…perhaps my children in the future?
All participants were working in industries other than public health, social work, and psychological counselling services. Recent graduates with public health, social work, and psychological counselling services degrees may apply their professional skills and abilities to other professional environments. For example, Participant#11 applied her photographic and art therapy skills in her marketing department and email designs. However, most of the participants worked in fields that were totally removed from public health, social work, and psychological counselling services. Many expressed negative comments due to the mismatching of career expectations and personal development. For example, Participant#3 worked as a ticket seller in a hotel’s box office. This mismatching may further create a high level of turnover due to dissatisfaction.
3.2. Modelling Peers
Starting a career pathway is not an easy step for recent public health, social work, and psychological counselling services graduates without much working experience or connections. First, unlike their counterparts in business schools or vocational training institutions, students in public health, social work, and psychological counselling services programs may not need to complete a business-oriented, practical internship for their professional year. Second, all participants completed their academic degree at a university overseas. Most were therefore unable to work in organizations outside the university setting without visa sponsorship. The visa requirement limited their opportunities to seek appropriate working experience during their academic career. Third, South Korean students do not have the right of abode overseas. Most had to leave their host countries within a certain period after graduation. Even if they had built up strong connections and good networking, they had to leave after graduation. Therefore, the absence of social and vocational connections within the professional field in South Korea was disadvantageous for this group of public health, social work, and psychological counselling services graduates.
3.2.1. Modelling and Referral from Classmates
All participants worked in the hospitality industry except for Participant#1. One of the strongest reasons why graduates with public health, social work, and psychological counselling services degrees joined the hospitality industry was peer influence. All participants were originally from South Korea, where they completed their secondary education. Therefore, most of their peer connections and career recommendations were in South Korea. Participant#2, Participant#5, Participant#6, and Participant#8 said that they entered the hospitality industry due to suggestions from their secondary classmates. Participant#2 said,
Several of my classmates studied hospitality and tourism management. They were able to seek their first full-time position right after their internships. Therefore, they referred me to their department supervisor and recruited me. I am so fortunate to have a full-time job after I came back.
Participant#5 echoed a similar expression about referral from classmates, saying,
In South Korean culture, references from others are key to finding opportunities. My classmates in the business administration program told their bosses to recruit me. I applied for many positions…but no responses…most of my friends were doing well in the hotel, so I wanted to join and try too.
Participant#6 elaborated on peer influence and her first position in the hospitality industry, saying, “my secondary classmates are successful in the hotel. I seriously don’t think the government is going to support my center. To survive, I follow my classmates’ footsteps and make some money for living.”
3.2.2. Modelling and Referral from Cousins
Participant#4, Participant#7, and Participant#9 were influenced by their same-age cousins who were in the hospitality industry. Participant#4 entered the reservation department due to the peer influence from his female cousin in a similar position, saying, “my cousin is a reservation assistant supervisor and says the workload is okay. I keep writing poems and storybooks during the days off.” Participant#7’s cousin was promoted to a supervisor position about two years ago. Participant#7 was able to secure his position due to the referral of his cousin, saying,
I sent out my applications and CV [curriculum vitae] at the beginning of my last year of university. No responses or interviews. I knew my cousin was working in the parking department, so I sought him out for help. I cannot say I like it, but I know I must survive.
Participant#9 also sought her first position in a different field based on the referral from a cousin, saying,
Public health, social work, and psychological counselling services are not a trend…the biggest companies are in France, the United Kingdom, Italy, the United States and other western countries. I understand the direction has been switched. I cannot wait for a lottery…after 15 months of unemployment, my cousin helped me to send out my CV to her department head in a hotel restaurant…
It is important to note that modelling peers and classmates reflects the central element of Social Cognitive Career Theory. Scholars [9
] have further advocated that modelling other people’s success stories may highly influence individuals’ career choices and behaviors. More than half of the participants switched their career direction from public health, social work, and psychological counselling services to hospitality due to the strong influence of their peers. These participants may be going against their own principles. However, peer influence changed their points of view about long-term and short-term career pathways.
3.3. Lack of Career Development Skills
Most public health, social work, and psychological counselling services programs do not provide vocational and career-oriented training and preparation for seeking opportunities in the business environment [21
]. In fact, many organizations want to recruit business professionals to increase the image of their departments, particularly for marketing advertisements. However, public health, social work, and psychological counselling services graduates usually do not understand how to apply their professional and counselling skills in a business environment. Therefore, most public health, social work, and psychological counselling services graduates are unable to apply their professional skills in appropriate directions.
3.3.1. Afraid to Start Own Centers and Non-Profit Organizations
Three participants expressed that they had planned to start their own centers or NPOs during university. However, these participants stated that they did not understand how to begin, maintain, promote, operate, and continue such endeavors. Therefore, after consideration, they terminated their plans. Participant#3 shared his experience of establishing a center, saying,
During university, the only public health, social work, and psychological counselling services professionals that I could encounter were my lecturers. They were very successful social workers, counsellors, and health professionals. But I could not learn ideas from them about establishing my own center. Most of them never started their own centers, so how could they have taught me?
Participant#1 expressed another idea about the absence of career development, saying,
I don’t know how to attract residents and tourists to my center…if I start in a small community. The program curriculum does not have such courses…they only trained us as a professional service provider. But professional service providers also need money to survive.
Participant#6 further emphasized the feelings from Participant#1 saying,
I know how to promote sexual health, elderly service, youth service, and women’s issues…During the last year of university, we had to learn how to serve multi-cultural and social disabled people from countries with political unrest…but I wanted to start my center. But I somehow didn’t know how to start the center. One or two counselling professionals may operate many of the centers in the market. But these centers don’t hire outsiders. We have to start our own. But I didn’t have the business sense…
3.3.2. Lack of Interdisciplinary and Practical Skills
Based on the interviews, the researcher noted that almost all the participants did not understand how to apply their valuable skills in the practical and professional environment outside of the public health, social work, and psychological counselling services professions. In other words, most of the participants only had skills in their own public health, social work, and psychological counselling services subjects, and no other professional skills. Due to the absence of interdisciplinary and practical skills required from potential employers, they were unable to expand their horizons to the next stage. For example, Participant#2 expressed her hardship in seeking employment, saying,
Many international hotels are using technology to design their art products. But I am still in the 70s. I know how to draw and paint in watercolors with art therapy. But how to use a computer to print and how to use the computer to assist…I don’t know.
Participant#9 also applied for the wardrobe and linen department at a hotel. Participant#9 should have applicable skills in clothing, so such a position should have been appropriate. However, Participant#9 expressed that her skill was not transferable, saying,
My skill is in counselling and visual counselling. I know how to use a different color. My interests are all about color, cutting, and fitting. But in the wardrobe and linen department, they mainly focus on washing the clothes. I never learned that at university. I wish I understood, but I don’t want to lie to the manager.
Participant#4 should be a good writer and even speaker for documents and advertisements, but did not know how to apply this skill to a business environment, saying,
…I applied for a newspaper journalist position. I wanted to write some articles for the forums. But they only recruited from the traditional section. I never studied, so I was refused an offer. For now, I apply for other contract writer and advertisement writer positions. Their requirements and expectations are not in my expertise…
Participant#5 and Participant#7 both expressed the same sentiment, saying, “how can I apply my professional skills into a business environment…a good smile is okay.”
All public health, social work, and psychological counselling services graduates should be experts in critical thinking and problem-solving. However, most were close-minded in other professional areas, particularly business. Public health, social work, and psychological counselling services elements are not hard to find in luxury hotels and shopping centers. Most expressed that their public health, social work, and psychological counselling services skills should apply in their particular direction. While some participants may have taken jobs in different industries due to money issues, resistance to applying their professional skills was also obvious.