Firms send new hires out to gain street smarts

by Yutaka Takikawa

Kyodo

An increasing number of Japanese companies are introducing practical experience-based training programs for new employees to boost their confidence.

Ikai Co., a staffing agency based in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, required 57 employees fresh out of school to travel 50 km by hitchhiking as part of its training program in April.

Each trainee paired up with another and hitchhiked from the town of Fujikawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture to Ikai’s training center in Gotenba, Shizuoka Prefecture.

“I’m now confident that I won’t easily become downhearted when facing difficulties,” said Takaya Ishikawa, 27, after his first experience of hitchhiking, which unlike in many other countries is not common in Japan.

The purpose of hitchhiking was to enable new employees to “experience success,” said Ikai President Takeshi Ikai.

Companies are adopting such practical training programs because many young people tend to lack motivation — sometimes attributed to a laxer education system with a lighter curriculum.

New employees of electronic parts maker TDK Corp. were instructed during a training program at a hotel in Tsumagoi in Gunma Prefecture to make small bamboo helicopters capable of flying for more than three seconds.

Hikaru Ikeuchi, 22, who produced a set of three such choppers, said, “I was really excited as they flew as I planned.”

The trainees were also required to prepare documents for cost calculations and quality control using software adopted by TDK.

The production of bamboo helicopters is an enjoyable activity designed to have new workers learn about work processes in the company, said Toshinobu Sato, manager of the personnel education group at TDK.

Tomonori Hirabayashi, head of the human resource development section at Hiroshima Shinkin Bank in Hiroshima, revived a training program for new employees at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s base in Kaita, Hiroshima Prefecture, in 2010 in a bid to help them “cultivate strong willpower.”

In a survey conducted by the Japan Productivity Center this year, 56 percent of new employees said they would continue to work for their current employer until mandatory retirement, compared with 31 percent who said they might switch careers. The first category has consistently outnumbered the second since 2007.