Top companies move to hire more foreign employees

Kyodo

Japan’s top companies are increasingly moving to give foreign people permanent contracts, judging that the benefits of diversification are well worth the challenges.

Among them is convenience store chain Lawson Inc., which has awarded between 10 and 30 percent of its graduate positions to foreign nationals over the past several years.

Among major manufacturers, such as Fujitsu Ltd. and Hitachi Ltd., around 10 percent of the new graduates scheduled to start work in the business year beginning next April are not Japanese.

Looking beyond Japanese for new hires has until recently been the preserve of small and midsize enterprises struggling with the labor shortage.

But major manufacturers — citing the need to better manage overseas expansion or take better advantage of the tourism boom —now find themselves seeking to diversify their workforces.

But potential hires may be put off by some of Japan’s notorious employment practices, which evolved with a fully native workforce in mind.

To combat this, companies are looking at ways to strengthen benefit packages and training, and mulling tweaks to their hiring and wage systems.

Lawson, which is looking to expand overseas, took on 16 non-Japanese as permanent employees when its annual recruitment drive began last month, compared with 28 last year. It plans to boost that further in 2017.

Of Fujitsu’s 500 graduate hires in 2017, around 50 are non-Japanese, as are roughly 10 percent of the 110-strong grouping at JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corp.

Cosmetics maker Shiseido Co. had a record high eight foreign employees join this year and intends to hire more next year.

In a recent employment survey of major companies conducted by Kyodo News, 13 of the 28 respondents said they plan to hire more non-Japanese employees in the future.

Companies with such plans spanned a wide range of industries from industrial chemicals to retail and insurance.

Many of the non-Japanese employees are hired after completing exchanges at Japanese universities, where local students typically begin the job-hunting process in their junior year.

While Lawson said its hiring process is the same regardless of nationality, other companies, including Hitachi, hold special job seminars overseas.

Fujitsu directly approaches students science and engineering majors overseas, and even offers internships to foreign students living in Japan.

The respondents acknowledged particular challenges they face in hiring non-Japanese, including managing different types of career expectations and sponsoring their visas.

One company said that it is translating signage in the workplace and carrying out morning meetings in English to help new foreign employees settle in.

According to the labor ministry, about 910,000 foreign nationals were employed in Japan as of last October, up around 15 percent from the year before. The figure includes those in casual or part-time work.