Posts Tagged ‘employment’

Electronics makers lead the way in killing off lifetime employment system

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

The big domestic economic news this week is the steep slide in stock prices for Sharp Corporation. Japan’s leading liquid crystal display manufacturer has seen its shares fall 73 percent since the beginning of the year due to an oversupply of television sets in a world that no longer thinks Japanese home electronics are the best that money can buy.

If you’re not Takashi Okuda, president of Sharp Corp., you probably don’t have lifetime employment. (Kyoto photo)

The only thing keeping Sharp going at this point is its parts supply business, especially the deal it has with Taiwan-based company Foxconn, which assembles iPhones and iPads for Apple and uses Sharp-manufactured liquid crystal displays. Last week, Sharp announced it was eliminating 5,000 jobs from its worldwide 56,000-person workforce, the biggest employment cut in the company’s history. It is also going to slash management salaries, including the president’s, by 50 percent. Originally, it was only going to be 20 percent.

In terms of pure numbers, Sharp’s cuts are actually modest compared to other electronics makers. Last January, NEC announced it was eliminating 10,000 jobs. Sony also said it would cut 10,000 employees in April. Panasonic, which employs more than 360,000 worldwide, has said it has “targeted” 7,000 positions in its headquarters alone working in office services, R&D and production technology. They will either be transferred to other divisions or subsidiaries, or pressured to take early retirement. And as these companies scale back, affiliated businesses will have to do the same. Renesas, one of Japan’s leading semiconductor makers, which mainly supplied NEC, will have to cut 30 percent of its workforce, the equivalent of 12,000 jobs.

Even the electronics companies that are stable right now, like Toshiba and Hitachi, haven’t escaped the downsizing trend; they just carried out their massive job cutting a few years ago, which is one of the reasons they’re doing relatively well right now and aren’t in the news as much. Another reason is that they’ve moved away from consumer electronics, where the competition is just too fierce.

Not surprisingly, home electronics is no longer a field that young university graduates are interested in. Ten years ago, Sony, Panasonic and others of their size were at the top of the wish lists of college seniors, but according to the online version of the business magazine Diamond, all new graduates care about now is getting a position in the public sector. Though the official unemployment rate in Japan is only 4.5 percent, young people know that securing work does not mean security, at least not in the classic sense, so even getting a job with an “excellent company” doesn’t guarantee a job for life. Only the civil service does. The government never restructures.

A survey was carried out by the employment consulting firm, Leggenda Corp., of students who will enter the workforce in 2013. More than 50 percent say their first choice is to work for the government. The Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training gets more specific. In a survey of 4,000 20-year-old men and women, they found that 87.5 percent will prioritize lifetime employment (shushin koyo) when they look for their first job. These respondents also look forward to “age-based promotions and raises,” another attribute of the old Japanese employment system that has gone the way of the dodo, at least in the private sector. This is the highest percentage on record, which just goes to prove that people really don’t miss their water until the well goes dry.

Beware of bureaucrats bearing student loans

Monday, February 20th, 2012

If you go to the University of Tokyo, you not only are more likely to receive an interest-free loan, but you'll probably get a job that will allow you to pay back the loan more readily.

As we explained in an earlier post, university-level scholarships, meaning grants, are pretty hard to come by in Japan. Though the term shogakukin is usually translated as “scholarship,” it’s really a student loan, administered by the publicly funded Nihon Gakusei Shien Kiko, or Japan Student Services Association (JASSO). We’ve already talked about how JASSO has increasingly cracked down on graduates who are slow in paying back these loans. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the number of lawsuits the association has brought against debtors increased ninefold over the past five years, owing mainly to the fact that graduates have not been able to find gainful employment.

The newspaper illustrates the problem with the story of a young man in Kitakyushu who last summer was instructed by JASSO to pay the entire remaining balance of his ¥2.2 million student loan. After graduating from a private university in 2006, he found a job selling kimono and started paying back the loan at a rate of ¥13,000 a month. Five months after starting the job the company went out of business. He took a job in a restaurant, but it only paid ¥140,000 a month and he was unable to keep up payments. He asked for and was granted an extension. In 2007 he got married and started making the payments again, but after a year and the arrival of a baby the burden became too much, so he asked for another extension. He quit the restaurant in June 2010 and supported his family with temporary jobs. He started making payments again but last spring JASSO asked him to settle the loan and pay back the entire balance, which amounted to ¥1.9 million. When he didn’t respond, JASSO threatened him with a lawsuit. Eventually, he refinanced the loan, which now included a penalty, agreeing to pay ¥15,000 a month until 2023.

JASSO offers two types of student loans. The first type (dai-isshu), which carries no interest, is approved for students whose grade-point average in high school is at least 3.5 (out of a possible 5.0) and whose household income is less than ¥10 million a year. The second type (dai-nishu) carries an interest rate of up to 3 percent and, according to the Wikipedia entry on shogakukin, is given to anyone who applies for it and, presumably, doesn’t qualify for the first type. A lawyer interviewed by the Asahi points out that the majority of people threatened with lawsuits by JASSO are type-two loan recipients, who typically go to non-elite schools and have trouble finding steady employment after they graduate. The gap between their expectations of what a university degree will provide and the reality of the job market can be inferred by the statistics. In 2006, JASSO sued 547 former students. Last year they sued 4,832.

Continue reading about student loans →

Ramen chain widens definition of ‘new graduates’

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

That's using your noodle: Korakuen in Akihabara

On the surface, there isn’t much to distinguish Korakuen from other chain Chinese food restaurants. The company, which is headquartered in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, operates 430 outlets, mostly in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. Their fare is pretty cheap, maybe cheaper than most Chinese restaurant chains, with prices for ramen ranging from ¥290 to ¥600. And like other companies in this line of business, Korakuen’s workers are mostly part-time and non-regular, which describes about 8,000 of its 9,000 employees.

However, on Oct. 14, Korakuen issued an announcement that sets it apart, not only from other chain restaurants, but from most Japanese companies in general. Starting in spring 2012, the company will recruit and hire as full-time, regular employees new graduates (shinshotsu) of universities, junior colleges, vocational schools and high schools who matriculated from their respective institutions in 2009, 2010 and 2011. To anyone unfamiliar with Japan’s traditional employment system, this will hardly sound remarkable, but to most Japanese people it’s nothing short of revolutionary.

Continue reading about Korakuen's recruiting shift →

Goodbye Work

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

Want Ads

Help wanted ads in a newspaper flyer.

A “white paper” recently released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry reports that a survey it conducted of Hello Work outlets (i.e., government-run employment offices) found that approximately 229,000 non-regular workers have lost their jobs since last October. The report looked at 125,000 of these cases more closely and saw that 3,400 people also lost their housing as a direct result of their sudden unemployment, which we assume means that they were kicked out of their residences because those residences were provided by their employers. The report went on to say that these people did not have any money saved, and so we can make the further assumption that these people are homeless at the moment — unless they have family or friends who will put them up.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that it’s very difficult to find work when you don’t have a place to live. But the main catch-22 in this story is that it’s impossible to apply for welfare without a permanent address; which means there’s no safety net for the unemployed/homeless until they secure work — if they ever do.

Yesterday, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry announced that the jobless rate is the highest it’s been since they’ve been keeping records, and an unscientific, visual survey of the banks of the Sumida River near our apartment indicates an increase in the number of “blue shacks” erected there since the start of summer.

Those people have already given up.

RSS

Recent posts