Sudden surge in global orders send Korean COVID-19 test makers scramble to hire

2020.05.21 15:56:22 | 2020.05.21 15:56:53

[Photo provided by Kogene Biotech]이미지 확대

[Photo provided by Kogene Biotech]

Global orders continue to pour in as pandemic still ravages across the globe, keeping Korean production lines of COVID-19 test kits hectic to require extra hires that cannot easily come by.

Exports of Korean-made test kits for COVID-19 began to surge in March when the virus originating from China developed into a global pandemic. The shipment value jumped from $642,500 (1.6 tons) in February to $24.10 million (32.4 tons) in March and to $131.95 million (105.3 tons) for the first 20 days of April, according to Korea Customs Service data.

Korean test kit and assay manufacturers, large or small, hastily had to recruit extra hands to meet the orders.

Seegene and Bioneer, the two largest in this field, hired temps to run production lines round the clock.

Bioneer, the only Korean manufacturer with localized diagnostic assays, stretched its payroll to beyond 500, compared with 86 at the end of last year. This company added 20 full-time employees and hired more than 100 temporary workers in the first half.

Seegene, Korea’s top molecular diagnostics company, plans to more than double its 320-person workforce within this year.

Some 65 workers at Kogene Biotech are working extra shifts and on weekends after the company became the country’s first to receive emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 test kits from health authorities in February.

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Sales over the past four months have already tripled annual sales in 2019, said Baek Myo-ah, senior executive at Kogene Biotech, adding the company will soon expand its staffing by 25 to 30 people to meet the explosive increase in exports.

Other smaller test kit makers like Gencurix and Sugentech are all in the same situation.

Despite a serious labor shortage, hiring is not easy due to lack of systematic training program.

Recruits must be trained individually at their workplaces for about three months before being deployed to production lines.

It is necessary to put in place a professional human resource development system like a degree program in diagnostic science, said Oh Ki-hwan, head of industrial policy at the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization, adding the K-bio policy has been unbalanced with too much focus on pharmacology, chemistry, food and information.

By Kim Si-gyun and Minu Kim

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