Japanese firms are recruiting more foreigners

(c) 2018, The Japan News/Yomiuri.

TOKYO – An increasing number of Japanese companies are hiring foreigners amid a severe labor shortage and in their moves toward globalization.

In 2017, the number of foreigners working in Japan hit a record high of about 1.27 million.

One challenge for the companies, however, is long-term retention of foreign workers, because many of them frequently change jobs for more favorable conditions and many of them quit jobs as they find it difficult to adapt to the working environment.

An informational meeting for Japanese companies seeking to hire South Koreans was held at the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo on Monday. Human resources officers from about 60 companies interested in hiring foreign workers, from such industries as real estate, food and transportation, took part in the meeting.

An electric construction company in Iida, Nagano Prefecture, aims to hire one or two new graduates in April 2019. “I’d like to hire [South Koreans] because I don’t know whether we’ll be able to attract Japanese,” the company’s president said.

In South Korea, fewer than 10 percent of students are able to find jobs at conglomerates, such as Samsung and LG. It is not rare for students to seek jobs overseas as the number of small and midsize companies, a key source of employment, is small in South Korea. A senior official of the South Korean Embassy said, “It is going to be a great opportunity to simultaneously solve the issues of both the labor shortage in Japan and the high unemployment rate for young people in South Korea [where the unemployment rate among young people is around 10 percent].”

The number of Japanese companies willing to hire foreign workers has been rapidly increasing.

Tokyo-based Fujita Kanko, which operates hotels under the Washington Hotel brand, has a total of 138 new employees who joined this month. Of them, 33 are foreigners from eight economies, including China, South Korea and Myanmar. The main reason for this is the increase in the number of foreigners visiting Japan as well as the company’s preparations for overseas expansion in the future.

Taisei Corp. has adopted the same screening standards for foreigners as for Japanese students in its recruiting process, and seven of its 251 new employees are foreigners.

According to a survey conducted by employment information company Disco Inc., 57.8 percent of companies plan to hire foreign students in fiscal 2018, which is 22.4 percentage points higher than the percentage of companies that hired foreign students in the previous fiscal year. The survey was conducted in November and December 2017, and 611 companies responded to the survey.

Asked why they decided to hire foreign students, 71 percent said they would “secure excellent human resources,” while 22.5 percent said they would “fill the number of people they plan to hire.” Multiple answers were permitted.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of foreigners working in Japan, as some industries, suffering from labor shortages, have been actively recruiting foreign workers. According to data compiled by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of foreign workers in Japan increased for five consecutive years from about 680,000 in 2012 to about 1.27 million in 2017. By nationality, China topped the list with 29.1 percent, followed by Vietnam at 18.8 percent and the Philippines at 11.5 percent.

Lawson, Inc., a major convenience store chain, holds training sessions in Vietnam and South Korea for cashier and customer service jobs for students planning to study in Japan. It began holding the training sessions in 2016. After coming to Japan, the students work at its stores.

However, there have been many cases in which foreign employees quit their jobs or change jobs in a short period of time. It is said that there is a wall after three years of work experience in a company. Many foreigners do not embrace the idea of working for the same company for the rest of their lives and many of them frequently change jobs if they find positions that are more favorable for them.

In addition, some foreigners quit their jobs because they are not satisfied with long working hours, as well as due to inequality of treatment between foreigners and their Japanese colleagues.

According to another survey, more than 70 percent of foreign employees, including those who have found jobs after graduating from universities in Japan, have worked for less than five years at each company on average.

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Requirements to work in Japan

Q: How can foreigners work in Japan?

A: The Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law stipulates that foreigners who want to stay in Japan to work are accepted for a limited period only when they work in highly specialized fields designated by the law, such as IT engineers and cooks. The law does not allow residency for unskilled workers, including retail and restaurant cashiers, and workers at construction sites.

However, foreigners can work under the foreign technical intern training system, in which they learn technical skills and knowledge in Japan to use at a later time for the economic development of their home country. Foreign students also can do part-time jobs up to 28 hours a week in general while studying at universities and other educational facilities.

There are 1.27 million foreigners working in Japan. Twenty-three percent are students working part-time and 20 percent are technical interns. Many of the rest are foreigners with work permits and others who do not need work permits for such reasons as being the spouse of a Japanese national.

Q: What are the hurdles to expanding the acceptance of foreigners?

A: The technical intern training system changed in the autumn of 2017, lengthening the maximum stay from three years to five years. Nursing care was also added to the fields in which interns can work, bringing the total number to 77. However, illegal acts by businesses that accept foreigners under the system have become a problem. Illegal acts have been discovered at 70 percent of participating businesses, such as not paying wages to interns.

Some in the business community are calling for the acceptance of unskilled workers to address the insufficient workforce in Japan. The government is considering expanding the range of acceptance, but it is also cautious about allowing foreigners in as unskilled workers because it may lead to acceptance of immigrants.


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