The job-recruiting process requires an overhaul if the government seriously hopes to ease the pressure on struggling students seeking work after they graduate, according to University of Tokyo professor Yuki Honda.

“This is a problem that has several issues intertwined at its core,” Honda, who has authored several books on labor issues, told The Japan Times. And delaying the start of the recruiting process, as proposed by the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), is far from being a silver bullet, Honda stressed, adding that employers should ultimately end their customary practice of hiring only new graduates.

Honda explained that the traditional unified process, in which university students who graduate in March are cherry-picked by companies and begin working in April, had its merits in the past.

But with the country’s economy facing new challenges and the job market shrinking, it is high time the practice was changed, Honda said.

“Basically, Japanese companies only hire new graduates with no experience or graduates with a rich background. Those in between are left on their own, and to make things worse, they only have one shot to get a job before graduating.”

Old customs are also what keep foreign students in Japan from working in the country, Honda added.

Surveys conducted by a group working under Honda showed that foreign students are “bewildered” by the degree of loyalty companies seek from their employees, and how they appear intolerant of any candidates who do not fit a specific profile.

Honda, who has served on a state panel handling recruitment issues, said government initiatives may be necessary for companies to change their mindset, including providing incentives or penalizing those that continue their old customs.

But students and universities also need a fresh attitude toward job-hunting.

For one, new graduates should stop going for long shots by choosing their employers based on their size and prominence. Instead of applying for conglomerates and global companies, a more realistic choice may be targeting small and medium-size companies, Honda said.

In order to do that, graduates need to understand their career options while they are still in school, which is where career centers should come in.

“Universities should become a place where students sort out their career options and decide what they want to do. Universities need to take more responsibility in what their students do after they graduate, and train them as real professionals,” Honda said.

“Expecting changes overnight is unrealistic. But putting an end to the ‘ice age’ for young job-seekers is crucial for Japan’s future,” Honda said.

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