University job centers rethink role amid changing economy

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo News

News photo
Political commentator Soichiro Tahara delivers a speech at Toyo University in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. The lecture, one in a series, was organized by the university as part of a program to help students plan their careers.
The audience that April day was made up of college seniors due to graduate next spring and first- to third-year students interested in the job market.Fukui's speech marked the kickoff of a series of lectures by prominent figures from various fields as part of a program organized by Toyo University in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, to help its students land jobs after graduation.The event typifies attempts by Toyo and other universities and colleges to re-examine the roles of their job placement offices in providing career guidance for students.College placement offices generally used to limit themselves mainly to posting recruiting information and handing out company brochures containing job guides.But a growing number of universities have been rethinking the function of their placement offices. Having gone through a period when jobs for new graduates were scarce following the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s, university officials are taking steps to steer students toward a future occupation and career path.According to surveys by the education and labor ministries, the percentage of new graduates who have managed to find jobs has been growing over the past few years as the economy has improved.However, many new graduates quit soon after being hired once they discover the work is far from what they had envisioned.Toyo University's lecture program was designed to assist students in preparing to join the workforce.The university also reorganized its placement office last year, renaming it the "support center for the formation of students' careers."The center launched the lecture program with Fukui as its first speaker. Since then, the sessions have been held once a month and are open to all students.Tadayoshi Nagashima, a newly elected member of the House of Representatives and alumnus of the university, is among those who have given lectures.At a session featuring political commentator Soichiro Tahara, a student said, "I would like to drop out of university and see the world in order to become a journalist.""School is never a waste of time," Tahara told the student. "It's important that you arm yourself with the basics."The director of the support center, Michiko Yasuoka, said she has had many inquiries from first- and second-year students and hopes the lecture sessions will provide them with a chance to think about their future careers.Rikkyo University in Tokyo changed the name of its job placement office to "career center" in April 2002."The era when – felt they were safe for the rest of their lives after getting a job is over,” an employee of the center said. “The purpose (of the center) is to have students think about their future, including their career, while they are at the beginning of their studies.”

The university organizes lectures by a variety of speakers and meetings between graduates and first- and second-year students.

It also provides hands-on training for small groups of students to practice the skills needed to make a good first impression.

The goal is to help students become aware of their strengths.

Waseda University also restructured its job placement office, turning it into a career center in October 2002.