Japan’s IT firms struggle to secure engineers amid acute shortage

by

Kyodo

The rapid spread of internet services has accelerated the shortage of information technology engineers, prompting IT companies to conduct in-house reforms to lower turnover and outsource orders to overseas firms.

ISA Plan Inc., a contract systems developer, introduced a system in fiscal 2010 under which employees choose leaders from among themselves for the role of enhancing human relations in the company.

During a session in late April at ISA’s head office in Tokyo, 10 leaders chosen for fiscal 2016 spoke about their plans to around 40 fellow workers.

A systems engineer in his 30s joined ISA three years ago as he was attracted by the leader selection program. “A systems developer usually works at a client company for several months and moves to another client once he finishes his assignment,” he said. “There were many workers I didn’t know at my former company.”

The leader selection program was introduced to establish “a strong organization where workers cooperate with each other to propose better systems,” ISA President Junichi Itokawa said.

Turnover dropped to 3 percent in fiscal 2015 from around 15 percent before the launch of the program, he said.

The Information-technology Promotion Agency conducted a survey in fiscal 2015, finding that 91.2 percent of 1,031 companies faced an acute or moderate shortage of engineers, up 26.5 percentage points from fiscal 2011.

Monstar Lab Inc., which develops apps, web services and operational systems for Japanese firms, is nurturing IT engineers in Asia — it farms out orders to outlets in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh as well as around 100 partners across the world — but competition for them is growing because of an increase in orders from the U.S., the firm’s president, Hiroki Inagawa, said.

Although wages for IT engineers are rising, more companies are placing orders with overseas developers to take advantage of their advanced technologies, he added.

Monstar Lab opened a development outlet in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, in 2014 to secure local engineers in addition to those in Tokyo and Osaka. While the Matsue office is staffed with five workers, Monstar Lab is facing difficulties expanding its workforce there due to a shortage of competent developers, Inagawa said.

The scarcity of IT engineers has prompted KiRAMEX Corp., provider of the TechAcademy online programming education services, to offer a course designed to help students learn the ABCs of programming in four to eight weeks. While more than 7,000 people have taken the course since its launch in November 2012, about half of them reside outside of Tokyo and Osaka.

Link Academy Inc., a Tokyo-based company operating the Aviva nationwide chain of personal computer schools, offers an advanced IT course.

A male company employee in his 30s, who takes the course in Tokyo, said, “I hope to make a midcareer switch to a company with better job terms after learning to develop operations management systems.”