Lisa Wiedmann, employment readiness manager for Army Community Service, shows a list of government jobs available on base.

Lisa Wiedmann, employment readiness manager for Army Community Service, shows a list of government jobs available on base. (Jeremy Kirk / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Just because you’re an American doesn’t mean you can get a job on an American base in South Korea.

Agreements between the U.S. and South Korea give preference to South Korean employees for the 7,213 positions on bases, Army officials said.

And although other measures have made it easier to obtain off-post employment without losing a status of forces agreement visa, few do.

“We know we are not going to please all of the military spouses,” said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, 8th Army spokesman. “Just as back in the States, you are not guaranteed a job. We want to be able to fill as many positions as we can, and we strive to fill as many positions as we can. However, there are a lot of factors that go in with it.”

In January 2001, the status of forces agreement was amended to favor South Korean employees for base jobs. That agreement allowed Americans to apply, but they would be considered only if no South Koreans qualified.

Even then, the U.S. government uses a nine-tier hiring-priority system, said Margarett F. Smiley, personnel management specialist, G1, civilian personnel division, staffing employee services. About 258 U.S. Forces Korea family members now have appropriated government-service jobs, she said.

The scale gives higher preference for appropriated fund and nonappropriated-fund employees identified for reduction-in-force measures. Family members rank seventh; six tiers have higher priority.

Throughout South Korea, about 300 of 1,600 positions are U.S. citizens in nonappropriated-fund jobs, said Gary J. Frankovich, director of marketing for Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Of those 300 people, about 50 are military spouses, he said, and the rest are South Koreans.

Some local positions could be changed into U.S. positions for security reasons, Boylan said. Those positions — which on paper remain South Korean government positions — are considered a government-service job if a U.S. citizen fills the slot, Smiley said.

The SOFA mandates the system’s fairness, said Dennis Bohannon, South Korea Regional Office spokesman.

“There’s a perception of if there’s a Korean manager, the Korean manager is only going to hire a Korean,” Bohannon said. “If there’s an American manager, they are only going to hire Americans, and in reality that’s not the case at all. I think a lot of it is they don’t understand the SOFA requirements.”

The SOFA allows family members to take jobs on the South Korean economy without surrendering their visa status, said Robert T. Mounts, U.S. secretary for the status of forces agreement. But negotiations are under way to clarify exactly how SOFA personnel should obtain work permits.

Part of the challenge is informing people about job opportunities before they arrive, said Larinza Stinnett, Army Community Service program manager.

“We are definitely trying to find better ways of informing family members before they get over here what to expect,” Stinnett said.

Despite perceptions, there are a lot of jobs offered on base, said Lisa Weidmann, the community program’s employment readiness manager. Those include government-service, nonappropriated-fund and contracting jobs in addition to positions at the Dragon Hill Lodge, base universities, the United Service Organizations, and the Red Cross, she said.

The key is making sure “folks know where we have the listings … and how do you apply,” Weidmann said.

At Yongsan’s employment readiness office, four binders are maintained with current openings for both South Koreans and Americans. Between 150 to 250 people come through her office per month, and Weidmann has compiled a weekly sheet of “hot jobs” for people looking for work.

It’s best for people who are moving to another duty station to make contacts early for jobs, Weidmann said.

When people come to South Korea, community service offers a variety of job-seeking programs, Weidmann said. The employment readiness office does not write résumés for people, but will review them and has tips sheets for creating one, she said.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 16 in the Dragon Hill mezzanine, the office will hold a Spouse Employment Education seminar, Weidmann said. Representatives from various organizations will give seminars on what kind of jobs are available, she said.

“This isn’t a job fair, but I like to view it as information fair,” Weidmann said.

People may not be able to get a job in their specific field overseas because there are fewer jobs, Weidmann said. But people should think about how their job skills might apply to other jobs, she said.

“There are a lot of carry-over skills,” she said.

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