World Bank looks to recruit new generation of Japanese

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In a bid to overcome its poor record of attracting qualified Japanese staff, the World Bank is reviewing its recruitment strategy here by targeting the younger generation rather than mid-career workers.

Leaving a company or government post to join the World Bank is “something that has up to now been very difficult for many Japanese to contemplate,” Katherine Sierra, vice president for Human Resources, said in Tokyo recently.

The American official of the development assistance organization was in Tokyo last week on a four-day intensive recruitment mission.

“The purpose (of the visit) is to make as many contacts as we can . . . to better understand the local labor market and to use and build these contacts in the future,” Sierra said in an interview with The Japan Times.

During her stay, Sierra met officials from the Foreign and Finance ministries, and experts in the fields of education and human resources.

“Once we have an opening, we will be better able to target the right people to help us find highly qualified staff,” she said.

About 150 Japanese currently work at the World Bank and affiliated organizations, a fraction of the approximately 8,500 staff from more than 100 countries, according to Sierra. Given the fact that Japan is second only to the United States as both the world’s largest aid donor and the largest shareholder in the World Bank, this figure suggests Japanese are under-represented.

Sierra admitted the World Bank has failed to attract qualified Japanese candidates, citing as a reason Japan’s corporate culture, in which people prefer to work at the same company until they retire.

This conclusion has prompted Sierra to reach out to a younger generation. She set up a forum to meet university students in the Tokyo area last Thursday that drew about 190 students, 150 of them participating at a hall in Tokyo and 40 more in Kobe and Hiroshima taking part via a video-conference link.

“Students were very interested in and understanding how they need to prepare themselves for these positions, what kind of work experience they need, what kind of educational backgrounds they need,” Sierra said. “These are really an indicator of changes in the labor market.”

Identifying the qualifications needed to become a World Bank official, Sierra emphasized the importance of strong abilities in analyzing policies as well as specialized knowledge in the fields of their choices, which she said are not limited to topics related to economics.

She said the World Bank, which has mainly been an organization of economic experts, is in the process of widening its activities beyond economic fields and that it needs more diversified specialists, including lawyers, social workers, health and education experts.

Sierra said she also urged the students to get work experience in developing countries, whether as a volunteer or as a participant in government-sponsored programs, as she wants candidates to share a passion and commitment to fighting poverty, which is the mission of the World Bank.

For young candidates, the organization offers an entry program called Young Professional Program, to which people under 32 with a doctorate or a master’s degree together with relevant work experience can apply.

Many of those who finished the two-year work program have subsequently joined the World Bank’s full-career program.

As a veteran World Bank official who joined the program in 1978 and has been with the organization for the last 24 years, Sierra said life at the World Bank is “always interesting.”

“Every day there is a new challenge, new problems to solve,” she said. “Every morning I wake up, saying ‘gee what is going to happen today?’

“We hope this mission allows us to have a better chance of attracting good people.” Sierra said. “And we are very optimistic about this.”