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Staff writer

She was 33 years old, on maternity leave and feeling not too secure about being able to get back to work.

The company she worked for had undergone a merger and many of her former coworkers — ordinary clerical workers with no specialized training — were laid off. Job searches were becoming especially dismal for those over age 50.

It was then that she decided to pursue a U.S. certified public accountant qualification. “I thought at the time I should do something to secure a job in the future,” said the woman, now 36 and a CPA, who asked not to be named.

Amid the deepening economic slump, business is flourishing for schools that provide preparatory classes for a variety of licenses and qualifications. These qualifications are becoming more valuable when working at a firm or heading into self-employment.

A number of people always rush to such schools at a time of recession to obtain a specialty in a certain field to strengthen their career-related backgrounds, according to U.S. Education Network Co., a Tokyo-based accounting school.

The U.S. CPA is the most attractive among a number of qualifications for students at such schools, according to officials of the school. The trend began a few years ago. The number of students at the school rose to 4,200 this year, seven times more than two years ago.

In May, approximately 650 students of four major accounting schools in Japan visited the United States to take CPA exams. They were among about 60,000 examinees. The number of Japanese who fly to the U.S. to take CPA exams is on an increase, according to the accounting schools.

Kotaro Anjo, president of Anjo International Co., attributed the increase to changes in Japan’s employment system. “During the period of high economic growth in Japan, companies could afford to guarantee workers lifetime employment. But since the burst of the bubble economy in the early 1990s, an increasing number of companies have laid off workers,” he said.

Last month, the Management and Coordination Agency released unemployment figures that show the nation’s jobless rate climbed to a record high 4.3 percent in June. “Those without any specialties are much more likely to be laid off,” Anjo said.

The number of people enrolling in CPA classes has rapidly increased after Yamaichi Securities Co. and Hokkaido Takushoku Bank collapsed in November, Anjo said. “A sense of crisis has grown among people after those two financial institutions failed,” Anjo said. “I think people have realized that the same thing could happen at their firms.”

That may partly explain why people in their 20s and 30s, who expect to work for another 20 or 30 years, account for a majority of students in the classes to prepare for U.S. CPA exams.

The popularity of the CPA qualification can also be partly attributed to the current business trend for globalization.

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