Gradual but steady changes are taking place in internships and on-the-job training programs offered by Japanese firms, with companies increasingly determined to recruit creatively minded young workers with problem-solving skills.

Some 20 students at Senshu University’s Ikuta campus in Kawasaki have been working since May on helping a leading Tokyo-based dormitory operator plan student housing.

The work is one of some 20 programs adopted by the university for this year in cooperation with employers under its internship system, launched in 2006 to let students acquire problem-solving capacities. In the past, a group of students helped a maker of “natto” sticky fermented soybeans develop a popular product.

The dormitory operator approached the university in a bid to obtain student input on residence halls. Students in the program visited dormitories operated by the company at other universities and listened to students living there.

Concluding that there should be more opportunities to make use of extensive friendship networks established through dormitory life, the students in the internship made several proposals in early July that dormitories should be designed with this in mind.

The company then asked the students to reconsider the proposals by taking costs into account.

“I learned a lot by working together with company workers for the same goal,” a third-year student said. Students in the internship are set to work out a final plan in December.

A report compiled in March by an expert panel at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry outlined five types of internships, including a mainstream one in which students learn how work is done at companies and a newly emerging one in which students cooperate with firms in seeking solutions to problems.

In 2012, graduate students at Kanazawa University recommended a plan to the Komatsu city office in Ishikawa Prefecture to rejuvenate activities in local shopping areas by involving young people in them. Students at Fukuoka Women’s University are planning educational programs for citizens jointly with the Fukuoka Municipal Government.

Internships of the problem-solving type are gradually increasing, according to Mynavi Corp., a Tokyo-based job information provider.

Interest in such internships is growing stronger among universities as they “enable students to think on their own,” says Takashi Mikami, editor-in-chief of the Mynavi job information website.

A further increase in the internships will depend on whether more companies determine a favorable cost benefit to the exercise, Mikami adds.

The METI panel recommended that freshmen and sophomores should participate in internships for understanding work and then in problem-solving internships in the remaining two years.

Ayato Oguri, 21, a junior at the University of Yamanashi, participated in a five-day agricultural internship held in Yamanashi Prefecture in early August, harvesting vegetables and tending to paddy fields from early in the morning until dusk.

“The work was tough but harvesting was enjoyable,” Oguri said.

“The earlier you participate, the greater leeway you can get to think of work in earnest.”

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