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Thursday, July 9, 2009

GLOBAL ECONOMY AND LABOR SYMPOSIUM

Training key as Japan leans more heavily on its nonregular workers


Staff writer

The role of education and training in the labor market will become even more important as the number of nonregular workers not covered by on-the-job training increases, experts told the June 17 symposium.

News photo
Rolf Kroker of Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Koln speaks during the June 17 symposium at Keidanren Kaikan in Tokyo. SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO

In Japan, companies have played the key role of providing on-the-job training to their regular employees, which meant that workers acquire advanced job skills only if they are hired by the firms, said Naohiro Yashiro, a professor at International Christian University.

"With the increase in nonregular workers, we need to provide them with similar education and training opportunities outside of corporate organizations," he said.

A key reason behind the continuing reluctance of many Japanese firms to hire women, the professor said, is the emphasis they place on on-the-job training to secure skilled workers. Because it would be damaging for the companies to have the trained workers leave in midcareer, they hesitate to employ women — who on average have a higher probability of quitting for such reasons as marriage, childbirth and job transfers of their husbands, he said.

Job skills also become more important for workers as the labor market conditions change, Yashiro said. In a low-growth environment, there will be limits to job protection provided by companies and workers would need to acquire expertise so that they can get by even if they are fired or their employers go under, he said.

Yashiro said such training should be provided by private-sector firms at the government's expense. "It would be inefficient for the government to be involved in such training and there is a chance that the trainees would get outdated education. The training should be offered by private-sector firms that have the latest technologies and know the workers' needs, and the government should cover the cost," he said.

Dirk Vaubel, a partner at Roland Berger Japan and a member of the Foundation Council of Japanese-German Center Berlin, said the internship system in Germany is something that Japan can learn from. "It has a very good training effect and very often leads to actual employment," he said.

Kazuhiko Toyama of Industrial Growth Platform Inc. also said government vouchers for internships at companies — in which, for example, an intern will get one or two years of on-the-job training at a firm while the government pays his wages — will be effective in enhancing the worker's employability because it becomes easier for the company to assess his skills and possibly hire him once the internship period is over.

Herbert Bruecker, a University of Bamberg professor, meanwhile said it is worrying that private-sector companies in Germany invest less on worker education than they once did.

"The traditional (vocational) education system in Germany, based on people going to school and then being educated in companies . . . does not work anymore as it did in the past," Bruecker said. As a result, an increasing number of workers obtain vocational training degrees not within companies but in government institutions and schools, he noted.

Bruecker also observed that the declining competitiveness of German universities has led to a brain drain of people moving to the United States or Britain to study. While it is a general trend among OECD countries, "in Germany this is clearly related to funding. We invest much less in universities compared to the U.S. and other countries," he said.

For universities to change, companies need to alter the way they hire university graduates, Yashiro of International Christian University said as he discussed the situation in Japan.

"Universities are competing for survival. If Japanese companies stop looking at new graduates as the main source of their workforce and prioritize people with qualifications — either those entering the job market midcareer or vocational school graduates — then the students will naturally look that way and universities will have to change to meet their needs," he said.


GLOBAL ECONOMY AND LABOR SYMPOSIUM



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