Ja­pan scram­bles for job-hop­pers to cope with labor short­ages

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Ja­pan’s labor shortage has pushed job­hop­ping to its high­est since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, as com­pa­nies scram­ble for work­ers with ex­pe­ri­ence in the rapidly-age­ing econ­omy. Job­hop­ping goes against the grain of Ja­pan’s work cul­ture, where many com­pa­nies hire grad­u­ates and em­ploy them un­til they re­tire. But the coun­try’s jobs-for-life sys­tem is slowly giv­ing way as firms curb labor costs and so­ci­ety shifts. Switch­ing jobs for bet­ter con­di­tions is no longer taboo amid a tight­en­ing labor mar­ket, and the trend is be­ing led by mid-ca­reer work­ers.

“There’s al­ways a risk of fail­ure. But you can’t get what you want if you don’t try,” said Hiromichi Itakura, 44, head of a med­i­cal job place­ment de­part­ment at Saint Me­dia Inc in Tokyo, who changed jobs in Jan­uary. “I took up this job be­cause it gives me a more re­spon­si­ble post. As a salary man, I also wanted a higher salary,” he said, adding that his pay is now 20 per­cent higher than pre­vi­ously. The num­ber of job-hop­pers rose for the sev­enth straight year to 3.06 mil­lion in 2016, the high­est since 2009, though it still ac­counts for just 4.8 per­cent of the labor mar­ket.

Older work­ers have more op­por­tu­ni­ties be­cause of de­mo­graph­ics: a fast-age­ing so­ci­ety, low birth rate and fall­ing work­ing-age pop­u­la­tion. The job­less rate has stood at a near twodecade low while the jobs-to-ap­pli­cants ra­tio is at a 43-year high. Big firms say the labor mar­ket is at its tight­est since 1992, ac­cord­ing to the Bank of Ja­pan’s lat­est “tankan” sur­vey pub­lished this week. Though job turnover is still low rel­a­tive to other ma­jor economies - the change should be wel­come news to Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, who has been cham­pi­oning labor flex­i­bil­ity and merit-based pay - with lit­tle suc­cess so far. En­hanc­ing labor mo­bil­ity is ex­pected to help raise low pro­duc­tiv­ity and boost wages, get­ting Ja­pan con­vinc­ingly out of a de­fla­tion­ary rut.

Com­pe­ti­tion for work­ers

Com­pa­nies fac­ing labor short­ages are will­ing to pay for bat­tle-tested work­ers who don’t need as much train­ing. Elec­tric mo­tor maker Nidec Corp is ac­tively hir­ing mid-ca­reer engi­neers and re­mu­ner­at­ing them for their ex­pe­ri­ence. “Com­pe­ti­tion is tough for tried-and-true per­son­nel,” a com­pany spokesman said on con­di­tion of anonymity. “We are do­ing our best to per­suade tal­ented peo­ple to join our com­pany.” Job-hop­pers aged be­tween mid-40s and 65 or older are on the rise, hit­ting their high­est, ac­cord­ing to com­pa­ra­ble data go­ing back to 2002. “The mid­ca­reer job mar­ket is boom­ing,” said Hiro­fumi Amano of en-ja­pan inc, a job place­ment agency.

Peo­ple older than 35 used to be con­sid­ered past their prime in the mid-ca­reer mar­ket but these work­ers are now sought af­ter. Com­pa­nies are seek­ing ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers and engi­neers and of­fer­ing higher pay, Amano said. Work­ers who se­cured higher salaries from chang­ing jobs out­num­bered those whose pay­checks shrank, labor min­istry data from 2015 showed. A quar­ter of job-hop­pers saw their salaries rise by 10 per­cent or more.

In com­par­i­son, av­er­age base wages in April rose just 0.4 per­cent from a year ear­lier. The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund has urged Ja­pan to en­hance worker mo­bil­ity to strengthen pro­duc­tiv­ity and wage pres­sures. “Low labor mo­bil­ity, a strong pref­er­ence for job se­cu­rity, and wage set­ting based on past in­fla­tion con­sti­tute the main bot­tle­necks for trig­ger­ing needed wage-price dy­nam­ics.”

The ris­ing mid-ca­reer job mar­ket re­flects Ja­pan’s chang­ing busi­ness cli­mate and evolv­ing at­ti­tudes about life­time em­ploy­ment and se­nior­ity-based pro­mo­tion, an­a­lysts say. “Look what hap­pens to even big firms like Toshiba, there’s no guar­an­tee for job se­cu­rity. Life­time em­ploy­ment is some­thing of the good old past,” said Masae Miy­achi, 41, of an IT ven­ture com­pany kaon­avi, inc.

Miy­achi changed jobs a year and half ago and her an­nual salary has now in­creased by 1 mil­lion yen ($8,857), help­ing her fi­nance a home loan. “You need to carve out a ca­reer for your­self to earn sta­ble in­come, and I’m do­ing just that by chang­ing jobs.” Ja­panese firms have curbed labour costs by re­plac­ing full-time jobs with part-time po­si­tions since the as­set-in­flated bub­ble burst in the early 1990s.

Now a ris­ing rank of non-reg­u­lar work­ers in­clud­ing part-timers and con­tract work­ers ac­count for nearly 40 per­cent of the work­force. Hiroaki Oku­tani, a 57-year-old con­tract worker at a lo­gis­tics com­pany Ueda Co Ltd, who left his job at a food pro­cess­ing firm two years ago, said his de­ci­sion was partly due to anx­i­ety about life af­ter re­tire­ment. “There’s no com­pul­sory re­tire­ment with this job,” Oku­tani said. “I’m happy work­ing here as long as my body holds up be­cause I don’t think I can live on my pen­sion alone.” —Reuters

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