[INTERVIEW] State agency urges hiring of foreign talent to ease shortage in digital infrastructure

By Lim Chang-won Posted : July 1, 2021, 09:57 Updated : July 1, 2021, 09:57

[Aju Business Daily]

SEOUL -- South Korea has actively adopted digital transformation in public and corporate sectors under a "New Deal" masterplan unveiled in 2020 that called for bold and proactive investment in digital infrastructure to propel a country already known for its competitive edge in Information and communications technology to a world factory of high-tech industries and a digital powerhouse.

The acceleration of digital transformation is causing a shortage of up to 40,000 talented people in software-related fields by 2025. And experts advocate aggressive deregulation for digital transformation. As a short-term measure, Moon Yong-sik, who heads the state-run National Information Society Agency (NIA), suggested the government should ease tight visa regulations to bring in foreigners.

"There are many outstanding software talents in southern countries such as India, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Korean companies should be able to hire foreign professionals, but visa issuance guidelines are too strict," the NIA head said in an interview with Aju Business daily.

Digital transformation is the adoption of digital technology to traditional services or businesses by optimizing the work process by using new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data and cloud. The process allows companies to reduce time and costs while improving the efficiency of work by simplifying work and using autonomous robots to complete simple and repetitive tasks.

"We need to lift old regulations and make foreign employment flexible," Moon said, adding that if regulations cannot be lifted immediately, there is a way to turn state-run facilities abroad such as the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) into smart offices where foreigners can work remotely.

Moon warned of "a software talent crisis" in South Korea due to a structural mismatch. "Demand for talent is exploding, and supply is simply not keeping up with it. The need for software talent, which was limited to IT companies in the past, is emerging in all industries, administration, and education sectors. The shortage is happening right now, and it is not easy to train a person into a particular talent in a short period of time."

The government is aware of the situation's seriousness, but it is not easy to work out effective and flexible measures due to differences in positions between government departments, Moon said. "I think that it is worth trying to boldly expand the issuance of foreign employment visas."

. "In order to realize innovative growth, digital transformation and a digital new deal, it is necessary to expand the enrollment quota of related departments responsible for fostering software talent at domestic universities," Moon said, urging large companies to implement social responsibility by actively pursuing training programs while creating "a developer-centered organization and culture."

Most small and medium-sized start-ups and companies have no solution, although they are paying the intangible cost of training new talent, Moon said. "Without relying on government policies, companies should open their own education programs and open them beyond internal operations to the outside world so that all industry workers and students can benefit."

(This story is based on an interview conducted Aju Business Daily reporter Im Min-cheol)
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