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Getting a job in Japan is a major concern for foreign students, who want to stay here after graduating.
While the number of foreign students intending to stay and work in Japan after graduation increases, Japanese companies are starting to pay more attention to foreign students.
According to the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice, the number of foreign students employed at Japanese companies in 2007, was 10,262, an increase of 24.1 percent over the previous year.
This column will introduce Japan's leading companies and companies that actively employ foreigners, and their thoughts about foreign student employment.
Vol 3: Hitachi High-Technologies Corp. Interview by Keiko Iwata
Hitachi High-Technologies is a company specializing in the field of cutting-edge technologies. Based upon a corporate vision of "becoming a global leader in high-tech solutions," the company provides solutions in five sectors: electronic device systems; fine technology systems; sciences and medical systems; industrial and IT systems; and advanced industrial products.
The company was formed in 2001 with the integration of two of Hitachi's manufacturing groups — Instruments Group, which had an established reputation in measuring technologies, and the Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipments Group and a trading company formerly known as Nissei Sangyo Co., Ltd. The company also merged with other group companies in related business fields and a subsidiary of Sanyo it acquired later.
From let: Koichi Mishima and Toshihiro Awata, General Managers of Hitachi High-Technologies Corp., talks with Keiko Iwata, president of Heart Connections, an NPO supporting Asian students in Japan.
Iwata: "Becoming a global leader in high-tech solutions" is the company vision. Do you actively seek to employ more foreign workers to achieve that vision?
Awata: There is a shared awareness within the company that to succeed in overseas markets we need international human resources who can help us. We want to have a diverse workforce with workers who think differently. Our business will be limited if conducted only according to the views of Japanese people, so to make the right decisions for our company, we need various viewpoints.
Mishima: These days, we are dealing with more and more clients from Asia, such as South Korea, Singapore, China, Taiwan and India. We strongly feel the need to employ more people, Japanese or foreigners, with the language ability of those countries.
Iwata: What is the process by which you employ foreign workers?
Awata: For those who just graduated from a university in Japan, the process is the same as for other Japanese students. We use the same evaluation standards and there are no differences based on nationality. When we have a job vacancy we also occasionally employ midcareer foreign workers, as long as they meet our needs. Aside from recruitment in Japan, we of course recruit local staff at our overseas offices as well.
Iwata: How many foreign workers are working in your company?
Awata: Within Japan, out of 4,400 workers, we currently have 14 foreign workers at our headquarters and 25 in factories. I think this number is still quite small. To expand our business overseas, the issue of how we can increase this workforce is a problem we are facing.
Iwata: Are you having difficulties employing foreign workers?
Awata: One thing is that we haven't established a channel to reach or appeal to prospective applicants. As we are engaged in business-to-business activities, especially in specialized fields, our company is not known to general consumers, including students.
Mishima: So from the viewpoint of recruiting, we need to expose ourselves to the general public a bit more to be recognized as a top-rate company. However, in truth, considering the cost-performance balance, it is difficult. Also, as our company has various dimensions, it may be difficult to get the general public to understand what our company is actually doing.
Awata: For those interested in working in Japanese companies, I personally think we should provide explanations or invite them to factory tours to make our company better-known and understood. We should expand our channels of reaching prospective applicants more, to expand business globally.
Iwata: What is the career path of foreign workers in your company?
Mishima: There are many ways to develop a career. We decide the path considering the company's plan and what the employee wants to do.
Iwata: Do you employ foreigners in Japan intending to send them back to their home country as core workers after training for a certain period in Japan?
Awata: Yes, in some cases. For example, the current chief representative of one of our offices in Asia was hired in Japan. He worked here for four or five years before going back to that country.
Now our Vietnam office is having some difficulty in finding someone who has good Japanese ability within the country. So we at the Tokyo office are considering recruiting Vietnamese students studying in Japan to be groomed to work in Vietnam.
Mishima: On the other hand, we have one Chinese employee who was recruited in Japan. She studied at a Japanese university. We sent her to China to study the latest business situation there. She is now back in Japan.
Iwata: How high a level of Japanese language ability do you expect? Do you have Japanese language training after employment?
Awata: Regarding new graduates for work in Japan, as I mentioned earlier, we employ them on the same basis as Japanese students. So, naturally, you would expect reasonable Japanese ability.
However, for midcareer recruitment, it is case by case. If the person wants to work with a specific country, he or she may not have to be so fluent in Japanese. We hope, however, that they will accumulate Japanese ability after entering the company, through the work or training that we would provide.
For those to be employed overseas, we will provide them with training and expect them to study Japanese after entering the company, ultimately to be able to communicate with us in Japanese.
Mishima: In this regard, however, this affects workers in Asian countries and regions, such as China, South Korea and Taiwan. At the subsidiaries in Western countries, we usually use English.
Iwata: What other criteria do you seek? Is it preferable to have degree in the sciences or knowledge in a high-tech field?
Mishima: Not necessarily. We do employ those who have a degree in the sciences for engineering positions, but in sections like sales or administration, we do hire those with degrees in the arts.
To be honest, even for engineers, we do not expect a very high level of expertise from students who just graduated from university. Also, those who majored in engineering could become staff in administration. It depends on the person's wish and the company's personnel plan.
Awata: Having a specialty is good, but what we want to hear is what they want to do. If people say they want to do this or that, we will try to fit them in the appropriate section in our company. We would like to employ people who understand what we are doing and who have some concrete ideas on what they want to do in our company.
Iwata: Could you give some advice to foreign students hoping to work in Japan?
Awata: When we work in other countries, we do it in their way. Wherever the place is, I believe, if you open yourself to people they will open themselves to you. So I hope those coming from abroad to work in Japan have the same attitude and come with an open mind. Then we can get along and work together well. We welcome people who have the sense that they are working as part of a team and people who will be integrated with our company.
Mishima: In a way, overseas students have advantages as they will be automatically considered bilingual, though there are different levels of language ability. Although language is not the first priority, it is appealing for companies nowadays. If a person is reliable and qualifies under the criteria Awata spoke about, they will be greatly welcomed.
Awata: Aside from having language ability and communication skills, it is appealing if you have something you are engaged in seriously, whether it is study in a specific field, sports or social activities while you are a student. Someone who can do things with passion is appealing.