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Firms Seek IT-Proficient, Internationally Minded Staff (March 8, 2004)

University students attend a briefing on employment opportunities offered by a company. (Jiji)
University students due to complete their studies in spring 2005 have already begun seeking jobs for after they graduate. Among corporations recruiting potential new employees, the trend is toward front-loading and stricter selection procedures. Some firms send out informal offers as early as January - fully 15 months before the students graduate - and the bulk of major corporations' recruitment activities will be over by mid-May. As firms make greater use of the Internet to recruit their future employees, IT skills are a prerequisite for students hoping to enter an elite company. Also, against a background of increasingly fierce global competition and the breakdown of traditional labor structures like lifetime employment and seniority-based pay, companies are increasingly dependent on temporary, part-time, and foreign workers. This tide of changes in the structure of the economy is also affecting the job hunting activities of university students.

Most Spots Filled by May
In the past few years, job-hunting websites have begun allowing third-year university students to register their details and providing job-hunting information in about October - a year and a half before the new recruits will start their jobs. This signals the start of a lengthy recruitment season that lasts until around mid-May of the following year. From October to about March, students request materials from prospective employers and attend presentations, and some even take part in internships in order to experience what working at a particular company is really like. Having researched their options, they file applications with the companies they are interested in joining.

After the companies have screened the documents submitted by the students and tested candidates in written exams and interviews, they make informal offers of employment to those deemed suitable. In the 2003 recruitment drive, foreign-based companies and consulting firms were among the first to send out informal job offers to their next batch of recruits, in February, followed by some commercial banks and insurers in March. The process peaks in April, when major manufacturers and trading firms start making informal offers, and the majority of positions are provisionally filled by the middle of May.

There used to be an agreement between industry and the universities that the annual recruitment drive would not begin until students were in the fourth year of their studies, but this accord was abolished in 1997, and the process has been starting sooner and sooner. As recruitment is currently a buyer's market, the selection criteria employed by many firms are becoming tougher and tougher, and an increasing number of firms are adopting year-round recruitment drives in which they secure the best of the year's students at an early stage and gradually whittle down to the very cream of the crop starting in June.

Compared with the corporations, there has been little change in the students' approach to job-hunting season. They all wear so-called recruit suits - brand new suits bought especially for job hunting - and even now about two-thirds of them have read Mensetsu no Tatsujin (Interview Master), long regarded as the bible of interview technique. The identities of the most popular companies also remain largely unchanged. According to a survey of students due to graduate in March 2004 conducted by Mainichi Communications, JTB Corp., the country's largest travel agent, is the top choice among arts students, followed by Toyota Motor Corp., Japan Airlines, Sony Corp., and Suntory Corp., while Sony is the leading choice among science students, followed by Toyota, Honda Motor Co., Shiseido Co., and Suntory. Firms that make liberal use of TV commercials or have been featured in TV series have risen up the rankings, a sign that public relations activities are having an effect on the recruitment side of businesses.

The Changing Labor Landscape
The labor market that job-hunting students will enter is currently undergoing major structural changes. Intense competition in globalized markets is accelerating the cycle of peaks and troughs experienced by industries and corporations, forcing companies to shorten the length of time for which they can provide secure employment to their workers. In order to survive the global competition in cost and added value, they are also shifting to skills- and performance-based wages and benefits. As a result, the systems of lifetime employment and seniority-based wages are breaking down.

Companies are plugging the gap partly by hiring more temporary workers. Firms that find it difficult to retain employees on a permanent basis are responding flexibly to the changing economic environment by outsourcing some of the work previously performed by permanent employees to temporary and part-time workers. This has caused the value of the temping market to balloon to ¥2 trillion ($19.1 billion at ¥105 to the dollar). This market used to be dominated by single women but now involves a far wider variety of people, including married women and engineers. There are even students who choose to enter employment agencies in order to become temporary workers when they graduate, not to mention "supertemps" who translate their advanced specialist skills into salaries of over ¥10 million ($95,238).

Companies are also increasingly turning to foreign workers. Unlike in the past, however, when foreigners were hired to make up for labor shortages, companies are now actively looking to use the skills and knowledge of non-Japanese. In order to cope with the increasing need to enter the Chinese market, for example, firms like Toyota, Nissan Motor Co., All Nippon Airways Co., Marubeni Corp., and Asahi Glass Co. are striving to boost the ranks of their Chinese staff.

In a 2002 survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, the number of foreign nationals employed directly by domestic corporations was 141,285, a rise of 8.3% from the previous year. Of these, 27,622 were engaged in specialist, technical, or management jobs, a rise of 14.9%. The 2003 White Paper on International Trade asserts that the acceptance of talented foreign workers with specialist knowledge and technical ability is essential for Japan's economic growth and stresses the need to make the domestic labor market and living environment attractive to non-Japanese.

These changes in the labor market suggest that there is likely to be major diversification in the hiring of new graduates, including a move away from the traditional practice of hiring large numbers of new graduates straight from university.

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Related Web Sites
Mainichi Communications (Japanese only)
JTB Corp.
Toyota Motor Corp.
Japan Airlines
Sony Corp.
Suntory Corp.
Honda Motor Co.
Shiseido Co.
Nissan Motor Co.
All Nippon Airways Co.
Marubeni Corp.
Asahi Glass Co.
Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare
2003 White Paper on International Trade

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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