Old scientists 'recycled' in Korea

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Old scientists 'recycled' in Korea

Retired experts drafted in to help small firms.

A shortage of skilled researchers has prompted South Korea's government to bring a number of 70 year-old scientists out of retirement and put them to work in small and medium-sized businesses.

The country's science ministry announced that 79 small firms would receive the services of retired scientists. Most of the retirees are in their sixties, but the oldest is 71, the JoongAng Daily reported. 

Korea's giant conglomerates, such as Samsung and LG Electronics, have hoovered up most of the country's skilled research talent, leaving slim pickings for smaller firms, according to local media reports. 

The scientists will be paid approximately US$2,500 per month, 80 percent of which will come from the government.

They have signed one-year contracts which can be extended for up to three years under the current sponsorship programme, according to the JoongAng Daily.

Korean research scientists with expertise in diverse fields including nuclear reactor design and synthetic diamond manufacture will take up positions with companies in a range of fields, including reactor design, small machinery parts and plastic pipe manufacturing.

The country has an unusually low average retirement age of only 56.8, according to data from the Korean Ministry of Labour, which recently vowed to fight age-based discrimination in employee hiring practices.

Older workers were encouraged to retire early to cut costs following an Asia-wide financial crisis in the late 1990s.

South Korea's government has long been concerned that a shortage of skilled researchers is hobbling the country's progression from a mass manufacturer to an innovator of new products.

Korean industry's reliance on expensive patent licences from foreign manufacturers has been the source of much anguish. Remedies include scientific cooperation agreements with other nations.

Korea has a declining birth rate, which fell to a new low of 1.08 last year, and one of the world's most rapidly aging populations.

The expected strain on tax and social security systems provides further incentives to keep older people in the workforce for as long as possible.

The Korea Times reported recently that 14 per cent of the population will be over 65 by 2018.
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