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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 4: Ricoh Co. Interview by Keiko Iwata
Ricoh is Japan's leading office automation (OA) product manufacturer, founded in 1936. Ricoh started by producing photo-sensitive paper, then expanded to camera manufacturing, then shifted to OA equipment. As equipment transformed from stand-alone to networked, Ricoh became an office system solution provider to offer a comfortable work environment.
Since 1995, Ricoh has embarked on a strategy to increase its global distribution network. The Ricoh Group now comprises NRG, Lanier. Infotec, Infoprint and Ikon. The Ricoh Group currently enjoys the No.1 market share in Europe and the U.S.
Kazuhiro Tsuji, General Manager of Recruitment & HR Development Department, Human Resources Division of Ricoh Co., talks with Keiko Iwata, president of Heart Connections, an NPO supporting Asian students in Japan.
Iwata: What is your company's stance regarding the employment of foreigners?
Tsuji: Now our overseas sales figures exceed half of our overall sales and our overseas subsidiaries, including M&A (mergers and acquisitions), are increasing. Out of around 110,000 employees in our group worldwide, 60 percent of them are from overseas.
For those working within Japan, even if they don't go abroad to work as expatriates, the cases where they need to work together, to collaborate with overseas staff outside Japan is increasing. Of course, Japanese is the base language for in-house documents, but increasingly the same documents are being created in English or other languages.
We create in-house documents only in Japanese at the moment, but I am starting to see some documents written in English recently. I think our company will one day go in the same direction as Uniqlo, which has announced its intention to make its corporate language English.
With such trends, we feel the need to nurture existing employees who can deal with global cases. And to accelerate the globalization within the company, we feel the need to employ people who would stimulate that, whether it is a new graduate or a person in mid-career.
Iwata: Do you actively seek foreign workers?
Tsuji: We actively seek both Japanese who have lived abroad or foreigners living or studying in Japan. We are still in the process of globalizing our human resources, but I would say we are looking for people who have a "Do as the Romans do" mind-set, not those who think "In my country, we..." while in a foreign country. What I think is important is having the attitude of valuing and respecting cultures different from their own. I think those who have lived abroad for several years are likely to attain that kind of mind-set through experience. As long as they have that kind of experience and attitude, it will be a strong point.
Iwata: How many foreign workers are working and hired each year at your company?
Tsuji: At present, including contract workers from abroad and working in our offices in Japan, there are 86 people, which is around 0.7 percent of all our employees in Japan. The number of such employees recruited through the regular process each year -- new graduates or mid-career recruitment -- has only just started to reach double figures. Even with those Japanese coming back from abroad, the number just exceeds 20. We want to gradually increase this number to employ more people who have different or cross-cultural backgrounds.
Iwata: Could you give us specific examples of foreign employees working in your company?
Tsuji: They are mostly in engineering and R&D. Fifty-four out of the 86 are working in engineering and research, nine are working in sales, 17 in professional sports, and the remainder are working as HQ staff, such as in personnel, legal and intellectual property.
For example, in my department, there is a Chinese graduate who has just been assigned to a position this July. She will engage in staff education. So to start with, we are letting her learn what our company is currently doing for staff education. We are hoping in the future she will contribute to planning education programs to enhance the global workforce.
For new graduates, we use the same process as for Japanese and foreign students. Regular tests are all conducted in Japanese, so she has no problem at all in writing, reading or speaking Japanese. In addition to her native Chinese, she also has a good command of English.
As I said earlier, we haven't developed an environment that foreign workers can work in without Japanese ability. Therefore, having Japanese ability will be a basic requirement so far. However, in mid-career recruitment, we are starting to see cases where people who are not so good at Japanese are recruited. For those working in the highly specialized areas it is not necessarily an essential requirement when other people in their section can communicate in English. We hope all sections will become like that in the future.
Iwata: What good points have you noticed about foreign employees that you don't see in Japanese workers?
Tsuji: I have conducted quite a few interviews with engineers this year. Compared to their Japanese counterparts, I felt those from overseas have a clearer future vision of what they want to do, what their dreams are, for example.
That is a good thing as long as the overseas candidates also understand that they will need to engage in and learn various things to start with, to build a foundation to realize their targets. They also seem to study very hard at university.
Iwata: In contrast, what do you think are some difficult things about foreign workers?
Tsuji: I don't think it applies to all foreign workers, and it may contradict what I had said earlier, but they can be a little too assertive sometimes.
There are times they demand much too advanced or highly professional positions before acquiring enough experience in Japan or expertise necessary to be in that position.
Having confidence and ability in selling oneself is a good thing, but one also needs a balanced view to objectively evaluate one's ability and career stage.
Iwata: Any advice for foreign students aiming to enter Japanese companies?
For Japanese students, we usually would say they should study English, English will be an essential skill, but I guess I don't need to say that to most foreign students, since perhaps they are already bilingual or trilingual.
So please study hard, to the fullest, at university and don't leave with any regrets. Also, please be interested in things happening in society, for example, the iPad or new online services such as SNS (social networking services). It wouldn't matter whether that helps or is related to your study or work. And from those things that interest you, have one thing you can confidently say you are fully committed to.
It is good to be accustomed with Japanese culture, but on the other hand, please also cherish your own country's culture.
Iwata: Any other message?
Ricoh values those who take on challenges. If you only do as you are told, you will just grow moderately. Ricoh gives chances to grow for those who do not fear failure and have the guts to take on challenges, though you may sometimes be criticized.
We welcome those who can work anywhere in the world and have the spirit to accept challenges.
If you are interested in Ricoh, we conduct two- or four-week internships in the summer and winter. We receive around 500 applications from students for the 20 to 30 places available. We are happy to provide one-day seminars about Ricoh to those who were not accepted, yet may wish to apply again in the future.