More firms add autumn initiation for non-April hires

by Tomoko Arima

Kyodo

In Japan, initiation ceremonies for new employees are traditionally held in April, the start of the fiscal and school years, when freshly minted graduates hired through the mainstream recruitment process begin their new jobs.

But as companies adopt more diversified recruitment strategies, such as hiring more foreigners and Japanese studying abroad, an increasing number of firms have begun to hold an additional welcoming ceremony in the fall for those joining midway through the April-March business year.

Given the increasingly diverse backgrounds of the new employees, company executives said they see the initiation ceremony as a precious opportunity for direct communication with the new staff and as a way to convey their corporate philosophies.

One such company is Hitachi Ltd., which decided to hold an autumn ceremony for the first time this year as it is hiring more foreigners and students studying abroad, who typically graduate in summer or fall.

“Our business has been expanding globally,” said Hitachi President Hiroaki Nakanishi at the Oct. 1 ceremony, where he gave a speech in English following initial remarks in Japanese.

Of the 59 new employees of Hitachi and its affiliates who attended the ceremony, 13 were foreigners.

Until now, those joining companies in the months other than April have mostly been people changing jobs and are usually assigned to their new positions right away without any initiation or orientation ceremonies.

But with a rising number of new hires being foreigners and those who have studied abroad, which also means a greater diversity in cultural backgrounds and sense of values, companies have come to realize that gathering them at a fall welcoming ceremony represents a valuable chance to nurture a stronger sense of belonging among its staff.

“It is necessary to convey, through the initiation ceremony, Hitachi’s history and company philosophy so they will all hold that in common,” said Naohiko Tamiya, head of the company’s personnel training department.

Natsumi Suzuki, who joined Hitachi in September after graduating from a U.S. university, was among those at the ceremony.

“Everything has been such a rush between graduation and the start of work that I haven’t really had the chance to think about it much, but (the ceremony) reaffirmed my consciousness of being a working member of society and the sense of responsibility that goes with that,” she said.

“It also helped me get to know my colleagues better,” the 23-year-old added.

Similarly, camera manufacturer Nikon Corp. also held a fall initiation ceremony in October for the first time, with about 50 new employees attending. Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and food maker Kagome Co. introduced fall ceremonies last year.

The desire to hire foreign students and Japanese students studying abroad is spreading also among small and midsize companies as well as those in industries traditionally dependent on domestic demand, such as the food industry.

This is partly because many of these companies now look to overseas markets for growth opportunities as it has become difficult to expand domestically, given Japan’s shrinking population and other issues.

A major corporation’s personnel official also said, “Japanese graduates have been raised under the cozy protection (of their parents and society) as a result of the decline in the number of children and give the impression that they have never really experienced much hardship in life.”

In contrast, “foreigners and those studying abroad, who have endured difficulties in life and show a hungry spirit, appear much more appealing (to companies),” the official said, asking not to be named.

According to a survey by recruitment and career development agency Disco Inc., 25.9 percent of the 1,136 major corporations that responded will hire foreign students in fiscal 2013, beginning next April, up from the 20.9 percent that did so last fiscal year.

There are also signs that even the traditional “domestic” recruitment schedule for students in Japan will also likely see changes if there are more students graduating and joining the workforce at other times of the year than just in the spring.

For example, the prestigious University of Tokyo is considering shifting the start of its school year from spring to fall, which is more common among many major institutions abroad, in a bid to become more internationalized.

In response to the increase in the number of graduates who have yet to find employment, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revised in fall 2010 its guidelines on the employment of young people, recommending that graduates be eligible to apply for jobs as “fresh graduates” within three years of graduating.

Perhaps the day will soon arrive when the staff initiation ceremony becomes a symbol of autumn in Japan, just as it is now for spring.