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Japan’s Changing Industry and Youth Training Initiatives | Futoshi Nasuno, Director Human Resources Policy Office Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [Date of Issue: 30/November/2012 No.0213-0871]

Date of Issue: 30/November/2012

Japan’s Changing Industry and Youth Training Initiatives

Futoshi Nasuno
Human Resources Policy Office
Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Here we look at changes in Japanese industry, the need for global human resources, and initiatives on the part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

A common plaint in recent years is that while Japanese industry might be able to win out on its technology, it can’t sustain that success when it comes to business. In fact, Japan has experienced negative GDP growth since 1995, and our IMD international competitiveness ranking has sunk from first place in 1990 down to 27th.

Japanese industry today stands at a major turning point. Of the various reasons and circumstances bringing industry to that point, the main ones have perhaps been shrinking product and technology lifecycles, the growing diversity and complexity of customer needs, and the globalization of business. Particularly in the case of business globalization, increasingly borderless markets have generated ferocious international competition in Asia and other offshore markets, requiring Japanese companies too to develop new business models geared to handle that competition.

In this environment, one particularly urgent task facing Japanese firms is to secure human resources to underpin their offshore business operations. This has meant that in terms of new graduate hires too, ‘globally competent’ personnel are becoming increasingly important, regardless of whether they are Japanese or foreign. According to METI’s FY2011 survey on global human resources, more than 80 percent of Japanese firms already operating overseas or considering doing so lack sufficient young Japanese global human resources.

In another METI survey conducted the same year on indices for global human resource development in universities, where the estimated demand for global human resources in 2017 will be 4.11 million people (equating to 8.7 percent of the estimated 2017 total of 47.23 million regular employees), in 2012 there were only 1.68 million such personnel (equating to 4.3 percent of the estimated 2012 total of 39.46 million regular employees). Global human resource demand is consequently expected to increase by approximately 2.4 times between 2012 and 2017.

With Japan’s population continuing to decline and age, and the Great East Japan Earthquake throwing the economy into crisis, fostering a creative and dynamic younger generation has become critical in restoring the Japanese economy to a growth trajectory. Particularly amidst the ongoing globalization of the world economy in the 21st century, there is a strong need to continue developing global human resources with the rich linguistic and communication abilities and experience of other cultures to enable them to operate on an international stage.

So what are ‘global human resources’? The Global Human Resource Development Strategy formulated in June this year identifies the following elements:

Element I: Linguistic and communication abilities
Element II: Autonomy and drive; love of challenge; cooperativeness and flexibility; sense of responsibility and purpose
Element III: Understanding of other cultures and sense of Japanese identity
The strategy also notes a number of qualities in addition to those covered under Element II that will be required in not only global human resources but in all those personnel who will underpin the core of society in the years ahead, including a broad-ranging education, deep specialist knowledge, the ability to identify and resolve issues, teamwork and leadership (forging a team from a heterogeneous group of people), public-spiritedness and ethicality, and media literacy.

To develop and utilize such global human resources, METI has recently been working with industry and academia on the following initiatives.

Industry-Academia Partnership for Human Resource Development
METI supports this meeting of company and university heads as a vehicle for dialogue toward industry-academia partnership. In May this year, the group put together an action plan for industry-academia partnership for human resource development geared to succeeding in global competition. The next step will be to steadily implement the plan in companies and universities and to widely communicate and disseminate good practices.

Overseas internship programs
As one of its FY2012 projects, METI sent around 100 Japanese students out to the local operations of Japanese firms in India and Vietnam for work experience. To ensure the greatest possible education effect from the short three-week period, a ‘plan, act, reflect, share, receive feedback’ cycle was built into the program with the aim that students would not just experience working overseas but would also learn how to learn. METI will next look at developing a template for effective overseas internship programs to encourage the spread of these programs.

Other efforts include three- to six-month overseas internships for young company employees.

Career Development Program for Foreign Students in Japan
METI has been running this program since FY2007 in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Outstanding foreign students are invited to Japan, where industry and academia collaborate to provide specialist education, business-focused Japanese language training, and training in Japanese business culture, as well as job-hunting support and internships. The aim is to produce human resources to add to the ‘fighting strength’ of Japanese companies. Around 2,000 foreign students have graduated from the program, close to 70 percent of whom are currently working at Japanese firms. This initiative has also helped to develop effective education programs and partnerships with foreign universities. In the coming years, we will build on activities in this area to bringing more outstanding foreign human resources into Japanese companies with an eye to achieving ‘endogenous internationalization’.

Fundamental Competencies for Working Persons
Since FY2007, METI has been working with companies and administrators to develop what we call ‘fundamental competencies for working persons’ through project-based learning (whereby students engage in problem-solving), seminars and general subjects.

To date, curricula used at model universities and innovations in relation to these have been put together in a reference book to help disseminate them to universities nationwide (see METI’s Working Persons’ Fundamental Competencies website (Japanese only )) and a manual on developing fundamental competencies for working persons. Workshops on working persons’ fundamental competencies are currently being operated for university lecturers and other relevant personnel, and METI also holds a Grand Prix for Development of Fundamental Competencies for Working Persons (METI Minister’s Award), in which some 100 universities from around the country compete, with the aim of spreading and enhancing these competencies.

* Fundamental Competencies for Working Persons: Proposed by METI, these comprise the ability to match the strengths of people with different ways of thinking and to take the lead in progressing action. The three core capacities are ‘the ability to step forward’, ‘the ability to think through’, and ‘the ability to work in a team’.

Award system for companies excellent in managing diversity (top 100 companies)
Taking advantage of diverse human resources and providing them with the opportunity to exploit their abilities to the full as a means of generating innovation and creating value will be both a necessary and effective strategy for Japanese firms in boosting their competitiveness. METI will consequently recognize and award proactive diversity management initiatives in companies of various types and sizes as ‘management contributing to economic growth’, present these initiatives as best practices, and aim to get more companies using them.

Despite the severity of current economic conditions, the future is not dark at all.

To build a new industrial structure that generates innovation on a borderless basis, everyone concerned, whether from industry, academia or government, will need to think and work together to move beyond this critical juncture.

I hope that everyone involved in industry, as well as those young people who see their future in industry, will be proactive about learning and taking on challenges. The government too is committed to working closely with industry and academia to provide support in this endeavour.

(original article : Japanese)

(For the Japanese version of this article)

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