KAWAUCHI, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – A labor shortage has been plaguing new factories in areas near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Thanks to efforts by the central and prefectural governments to create jobs to prepare for the return of locals who evacuated because of the nuclear crisis, businesses opened factories in the village of Kawauchi, close to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s shattered facility.
But the factories are suffering from a lack of workers due chiefly to delays in the return of evacuees, especially young people. In addition, some workers quit after finding themselves unsuited for the new jobs.
All areas of Kawauchi were warned to evacuate soon after the March 2011 nuclear catastrophe started. An evacuation advisory is still in place in part of the village.
In November 2012, Kikuchi Seisakusho Co. of Hachioji, western Tokyo, started operations at a factory converted from a high school in an area of Kawauchi where the evacuation advisory has been lifted.
As the factory is only about 20 minutes by car from the Tomioka interchange on the Joban Expressway, which connects the Tokyo metropolitan area with the Tohoku region, it is convenient in terms of bringing in materials and shipping products.
The biggest problem, however, is the shortage of labor.
The factory hired about 30 Kawauchi residents at the start of operations to support reconstruction, a senior official of Kikuchi Seisakusho said. Before the crisis, many of them had agricultural jobs or worked at supermarkets.
More than 10 workers quit within about two years.
“Many left as they couldn’t get used to the factory work,” said Kenichi Sato, the factory manager.
The factory casts high-end aluminum products using cutting-edge equipment. Finishing processes are done by hand.
There are few people with manufacturing experience in Kawauchi, and “it takes five to six years to train newcomers,” Sato said.
Although the factory hopes to eventually operate at full capacity, the current rate is about two-thirds.
Four businesses, including Kikuchi Seisakusho and a furniture maker, launched operations in the village after the central government began lifting evacuation advisories in September 2011.
Six companies have decided to open new bases in a Kawauchi industrial park, whose construction will start in fiscal 2015 thanks partly to government subsidies.
The industrial park is expected to create at least 150 jobs as four more firms are likely to launch operations there.
A village official in charge of reconstruction voiced concerns, however, saying it is unclear if the full 150 workers can be secured.
As of the beginning of last month, only 1,584 residents, or 60 percent of the total population, had returned to the village. Of them, 70 percent are 65 or older.
The village official underlined the importance of a comprehensive approach, noting that not only efforts to build new factories but also decontamination work, support in changing careers and help in finding homes are necessary.
Against this backdrop, the Kawauchi Municipal Government plans to build new homes near the industrial park in a bid to accelerate the return of residents and attract newcomers.