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An estimated 850,000 new graduates from colleges and high schools joined the workforce Monday, up several hundred thousand from last year as many companies hired more young people on the back of the economic recovery and ahead of the upcoming mass retirement of postwar baby boomers.

Leaders of companies and government bodies urged their new recruits to work hard to boost public confidence in their organizations in ceremonies held on the first weekday of fiscal 2006.

West Japan Railway Co. President Masao Yamazaki urged new recruits “to play a great role” in helping the company restore public confidence lost in the wake of a derailment that killed 107 people and injured 555 nearly a year ago.

The Osaka-based major railway had planned to hire about 750 people for the new business year before the April 25, 2005, accident, but mounting calls to boost safety prompted it to finally boost the new intake to 1,113 people, it said.

Masanari Isonishi, 22, one of the new JR West workers, addressed the ceremony, saying, “We’ll work on creating safety by inheriting the skills of senior colleagues.”

Japan Airlines Corp. President Toshiyuki Shinmachi, who is to step down from his post in June following infighting in the firm’s leadership, told 130 new employees, “I apologize from deep in my heart for making you worried.

“Although JAL is in a very severe situation, I do hope young power will support this company,” Shinmachi said. The reputation of the nation’s leading airline has been tarnished by the internal management dispute and trouble involving planes that has disrupted operations since last year.

At the Defense Agency, Senior Vice Defense Minister Taro Kimura told 106 new entrants, “We want you to become full-fledged government officials without forgetting the significance of living up to the public’s expectations.”

Kimura was referring to bid-rigging scandals involving the Defense Facilities Administrative Agency, to which 16 new hires of the 106 will be assigned, as well as the leaking of defense-related intelligence on the Internet.

The proportion of college students who had landed jobs as of Feb. 1 rose by 3.2 points from a year earlier to 85.8 percent, and the rate for high school graduates at the end of January climbed by 3.7 points to 85.3 percent, according to surveys by the labor ministry and other entities.

A poll by the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) underscored the trend, with about 54 percent of major corporations, including securities firms, banks and manufacturers, saying they were hiring more new graduates than the previous year.

Roughly three-quarters of the polled companies said they had struggled to find new workers, the Nippon Keidanren poll indicated.

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