The power of Germany, the world`s top manufacturing country, comes from meisters, or professional technicians fostered by linking the medieval master craftsmen system to modern education. The meister system originated from the Meister alliance formed in 1897 under Kaiser Wilhelm II. In Germany, 30 percent of children attend academic school called "gymnasium" and the remaining 70 percent go to vocational schools called "realschule" or "hauptschule." Japan also gives preferential treatment to skilled craftsmen under a system launched in 1969 through a law on vocational ability promotion. Skilled craftsmen who take pride in carrying on their family businesses receive generous support from the Japanese government.
For its part, Korea introduced a master craftsmen system in 1986. People who benefit from the system must hold the same industrial job for more than 15 years, have top technical capability in their respective areas, and contribute to the enhancement of the nation`s technical competence and status. This year, 27 master craftsmen were selected in 27 job categories after undergoing comprehensive screening based on technician award grants, certificate acquisition, performance and work enhancement, publishing of books, theses and manuals, community service and external activities.
In 2010, meister schools were introduced in Korea to foster field-based talented workers who sought to become master craftsmen. Twenty-one meister high schools are operating nationwide specializing in biology, semiconductors, cars, electronics, machinery, robots, telecommunications, shipbuilding, aviation, energy, steel and marine development. A survey found that 84.3 percent of meister students graduating in February next year have secured jobs after graduation, far more than the average of 59.5 percent for university seniors. The remaining students are also undergoing the hiring process. The entrance rate to specialized high schools including meister plunged to 50.2 percent this year from 73.5 percent in 2009. Under this circumstance, meister schools are expected to contribute to changing the perception that a college diploma is the only solution.
Companies` efforts to hire high school graduates have also contributed to the success of meister schools. Meister students still largely prefer large and state-owned companies, but the bias in Korea against high school graduates and technical workers is showing signs of easing. The meister school is a key achievement in education by President Lee Myung-bak but needs to be maintained by the next administration. A consistent policy is necessary to reduce the large number of college graduates and retain the Korean tradition of master craftsmen in the high-growth era.
Editorial Writer Ha Tae-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)