Lecture 3: Support for employee career development and human-resource development by Japanese firms (1)

February 14th, 2022 [No. 93-2021]

Dr. YAMADA Hisashi,
Vice Chief Counselor, Senior Economist,
The Japan Research Institute, Limited




Japan's initiatives as recurrent education grows increasingly important

Lecture 3: Support for employee career development and human-resource development by Japanese firms (1)

 Through now, the Japanese government has attempted a variety of measures in response to the increasing importance of relearning and retraining as workers increasingly need to work for longer years amid accelerating economic and environmental changes. But what kinds of conditions are actually in place under these circumstances? Since it is the individual workers themselves who play key roles in relearning and retraining, key related factors are the degrees to which active career building is recognized to be necessary and is implemented. First of all, in a survey of employee awareness by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training [5] about 70% of respondents answered "I definitely would like to think about my own career planning myself" or "I would prefer to think about my own career planning myself." As these results show, the necessity of active career building is recognized among employees of Japanese firms.

 At the same time, respondents' answers to a question on points about which they were particular in choosing jobs showed that a majority cited passive factors such as "I want to earn reliable pay working in a stable organization" and "I want to work in my own way and at my own pace." In sum, even though the need for career independence is recognized widely, in Japan today few people actually are able to achieve it based on a proactive vision.

 Furthermore, a look at motivation for self-development, which is important to active career building, shows that only about 30% of all workers made efforts toward self-development. International comparison based on the results of a survey of countries in the Asia-Pacific region by Persol Research and Consulting shows that while on average a little more than 10% of workers in all other countries surveyed reported taking no particular measures toward self-development, in Japan the percentage was nearly 50 percent. While continual learning by workers is considered essential to active career building, an issue in Japan is the small number of hours of training undergone by workers, particularly those in middle age and older.

 So why is self-development, which is vital to independent career building, so rare in Japan? According to a survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare [6], the most common reason for an inability to carry out self-development was "no time because I am too busy for work," cited by 55% of full-time, permanent employees. In addition to costs, other reasons cited commonly included "I am unsure what kind of courses would be appropriate for my desired career" (cited by 22.5% of full-time, permanent employees) and "I am not sure what kind of career I should aim for" (cited by 18.5% of full-time, permanent employees).

 Japanese-style human-resource practices have differed from those in Europe and the United States in that they have been focused on providing employees with opportunities to acquire various skills that can be used in their companies, through hiring without specifying job types and experiencing a wide range of jobs, premised on the assumption of continual employment until mandatory retirement age. Human-resource transfers have been conducted under employer leadership, and employees were unable to make the final decisions on their job types. As a result, their careers have been built up in ways dependent on their employers. Independent career building led by the employees themselves, which is a precondition for effective relearning and retraining, requires reconsideration of existing forms of employer-led job selection and assignment. In fact, a trend toward such reconsideration has developed in recent years, and we will look at this point in the next issue.

[5] Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (2021), "Employee life and career attitude survey:Attitudes toward work, learning, and lifestyle," Research Series No. 208.
[6] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, "Basic survey on skills development”, FY2020.

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