SEOUL: In the office of one of Seoul’s young tech companies, workers click away at a frantic pace, eyes glued to the screen, with gamer-like concentration on the complex software on their screens.
Without looking at their faces, you would not guess that everyone who works here is over the age of 55 – a strict condition that the company imposes when hiring staff.
In 2013, Mr Chung Eunsung founded EverYoung, a content monitoring company that hires only seniors, because he wanted to do something “practical and concrete” about age discrimination, an issue he sees as a “very pressing” one.
South Korea’s corporate environment is notorious for forcing senior workers into retirement before the official retirement age of 60. In a recent survey among people aged 20 to 50 by Statistics Korea, 82 per cent of respondents felt at risk of being forced into early retirement.
Mr Kim Seong-Kyu, a manager at EverYoung, said: “We wanted to find a way to get these seniors to participate in economic activities.”
Staff are trained to use platforms on Naver, South Korea’s Google equivalent, to censor sensitive information on Naver Maps, and monitor content on their blogging platforms.
They are also trained in other IT skills, and sometimes even conduct coding classes for school kids.
The company rosters their workers on four-hour shifts, and makes it compulsory to have a 10-minute break every 50 minutes.
The office is decked out with a chic pantry, a breakout area with couches and books, and even a blood pressure machine that staff can use during their break time.
While people usually assume that seniors are “slow” or at a loss when it comes to technology, those who work here prove that the skills gap in South Korea’s highly tech-focused economy is not deterring them from being part of it.
Said an 83-year-old employee: “I try to keep up with the times and I’m eager to learn new skills again. I have picked up so many new IT skills here and enjoy coming to work every morning because of that.”
Mr Kim noted: “They are full of passion. The time that they have, and their interest in this work, are primarily why they come to work.”
Mr Kim also said that their staff display a high level of attention to detail, which is a trait that is not so common in younger employees these days. Phones are kept away in lockers, and seniors don’t get distracted as easily.
EverYoung employs 420 seniors across Seoul from a range of backgrounds – they have staff who were engineers, and even some who have been unemployed for a long time.
Former housewife, Ms An Kyeong-hwa, 59, a mathematician by training said:
After my two daughters grew up, I felt like I shouldn’t be doing nothing. I wanted to do something for myself, and develop myself.
It is reasons like these, says Mr Chung, that make this project even more meaningful. He said: “I believe that by employing seniors, we help to improve their quality of life and welfare.”
“Korea is ageing and the phenomenon is accelerating, so we believe that their participation in our economy would in fact, revitalise it, as well as breathe some life into the aging society.”
WATCH: Working at EverYoung (1:33)