The Keys to Developing Japanese Personnel to Operate in a Globalizing Society
Tomikazu Hiraga, Ph.D.
Professor of International Competitive Strategy, Niigata University
Executive Research Fellow & General Manager for Asia, NLI Research Institute
With Japanese society continuing to globalize while dealing with an inverting age pyramid, what are the key issues in terms of developing Japanese personnel who can make a contribution in the business world in particular?
With Japanese companies increasingly operating on a global basis and more inbound business opportunities—investment and tourism, for example—also presenting, it is becoming more important than ever to train, secure and utilize “global” personnel, both Japanese and otherwise, to drive these operations.
In my April 24, 2017 article entitled “A New Japanese-style Business Management Model that Utilizes the Diverse Abilities and Individualities of a Multinational Work Force,” I focused on the use of a highly-skilled multinational work force as a way to address the personnel challenges presented by the globalization of Japanese companies.
Here I would like to identify those points which I regard as critical in terms of developing Japanese personnel who can operate in and contribute to society (and particularly the business world) as it deals with globalization and an inverted age pyramid.
1. Japanese personnel challenges presented by globalization
(1) Working abroad
Various surveys have pinpointed human resources as the most critical issue for Japanese companies in terms of promoting their further globalization, noting the following issues in particular in terms of developing and securing global Japanese personnel.
(a) Firstly, the average age of Japanese personnel stationed abroad is apparently rising. According to a Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) survey, where the average age in 1993 was 41.3 years old, by 2006 it had risen to 46.1, while subsequent surveys by other institutions reveal a similar trend.
Secondly, the ratio of Japanese personnel going off to overseas posts without their families is extremely high. Korea is completely the opposite, with employees keen to take their families with them as a chance to improve their children’s English ability as a future career advantage paid for and assisted by the company. As a result, more Koreans than Japanese can be found in India, Indonesia and many other regions around the world, where they have become a significant local presence.
(b) Many young employees are tending to shun overseas postings. The results of a recent survey indicated that 60.4 percent of new hires did not want to work overseas (Sanno University, Seventh Survey on the Global Awareness of New Employees, October 2017; see Figure 1).
(2) Study abroad and linguistic ability
The number of Japanese studying abroad, which could considered as a major base in terms of developing personnel to operate on a global stage, is also flat or falling, in sharp contrast to the rise in countries like China and Korea (according to UNESCO data; Figure 2).
In addition, from the perspective of strengthening a key communication skill, Japan remains close to the bottom of the ladder internationally in terms of English language ability, coming in at 135th out of 163 countries, and 27th among 30 Asian countries, in the 2010 rankings for TOEFL, an exam designed to test the English ability needed for study abroad.
2. Importance of boosting motivation
To resolve the above issues, or at least improve the situation, the most important task will be to change young people’s mindset in relation to working or starting up a business abroad, as well as to global business, whether in Japan or overseas, and to fuel their motivation.
I teach classes on global management at a number of universities, and I am often taken aback to hear so many students, and particularly students who have spent time abroad, start out saying that they think there is no need to go overseas when Japan is so convenient, clean, and safe, and has such good convenience stores. There may well be something to the argument that growing up in a post-bubble economy with no experience of Japan’s age of prosperity has left young Japanese inward-looking and lacking in confidence.
However, while many of my students might start out with a negative impression of working abroad and jobs involving global interaction, in the course of their studies they learn about Japan’s and their own place in the world and the opportunities that present, and as a result, they often develop a much more positive perspective on studying and working abroad and building their skills in English and other languages and ultimately end up at global companies and companies that engage proactively with foreign customers in Japan.
I have also seen a number of cases where students have graduated and almost immediately gone on to launch businesses abroad. A typical final student comment is that they wish they had heard what I tell them back when they were still in junior or senior high school, because it would have made them much more interested in studying and working abroad.
In that regard, Sanno University’s 2017 Seventh Survey on the Global Awareness of New Employees also found that 76.5 percent of those who have studied abroad are keen to work abroad, whereas 70 percent of those who have not studied abroad say that they don’t want to work abroad. The most common reason given for not wanting to work abroad was respondents’ lack of confidence in their language ability, leading Sanno University to conclude that overseas study experience and foreign language proficiency have an influence on new hires’ interest in working abroad.
The survey did suggest a positive change in new hires’ global awareness, with 79.5 percent of respondents agreeing that Japanese companies should pursue globalization, and this is consistent with my own observations and experience at the universities where I teach.
The young generation who stand to become global human resources need to be properly informed about the world in which Japan finds itself; the high ambitions of the founders of Japan’s leading global companies and the history of the development of those companies; the contribution which corporate activities make to the world and the influence they have; and the course of globalization and the role which we Japanese and Japanese companies can play in this, as well as the opportunities available. More young people need to be given the chance to recognize and think about the significance and utility of global work duties and career-building at home and abroad at an early point—preferably while they are still at junior or senior high school.
To achieve this, the above content needs to be built into the school curriculum (including the use of the integrated study period and special classes) as an effective means of strengthening students’ language abilities and intercultural abilities based on a greater sense of purpose, understanding, and self-awareness, while also enhancing systems and assistance related to study and work abroad. Students also need to be equipped with sufficient knowledge and understanding of their own country’s culture and history, etc.
The economic advance and market growth in other Asian countries present great future opportunities for young Japanese, and it will be absolutely critical for the government, companies, education and research institutions, the media and households to work together to create the right conditions and enhance support systems and mechanisms, as well as to proactively introduce role models and best practices, ensuring that young people are properly taught at an early age about the significance and attraction of learning, working and contributing globally.