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As Japan’s youngsters dwindle in number, major companies sent recruiters to Singapore recently to interview high-flying university graduates from elsewhere in Asia.

Tokyo-based recruitment firm Recruit Career Co. arranged for seven companies to interview about 60 foreign students with a view to hiring the continent’s best and brightest.

It is unprecedented for Japanese companies to go to Southeast Asia to hire fresh graduates from local universities to bring them back to Japan. Until now, they have generally only hired foreign students who studied in Japan — and for positions at their subsidiaries overseas.

The move reflects both how Japanese companies are becoming more international in outlook, and how human resource departments are starting to cast a wider net as they face a shrinking pool of university graduates at home.

It was a quiet Saturday morning Dec. 13 in Singapore’s new downtown financial district, with most offices already deserted for the weekend, when the students gathered on the 39th floor of the swanky Marina Bay Financial Center.

The final-year undergraduates and recent graduates had been short-listed in interviews conducted mostly through Skype and then flown to Singapore for two days of interview. Their air tickets and hotel rooms were paid for.

Most tried to hide their nervousness as they fiddled with their laptops or their notes. Some were quiet and serious, while others chatted with friends as they sat on sofas while waiting their turn.

Two young men took a break from the serious atmosphere by taking selfies with the backdrop of the blue waters of Singapore’s Marina Bay and the SkyPark leisure complex of the Marina Bay Sands towering in the distance.

The candidates hailed from Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India and Singapore. More than half could speak a fair amount of Japanese, as most of the companies expected.

The recruiters included Panasonic Corp., Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and Brother Industries Ltd.

Masayasu “Mark” Yukioka, director of Panasonic’s Corporate Recruiting Center, told reporters that just before coming to Singapore he was in India, where he visited the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, well aware of that country’s capability of producing skilled engineering graduates.

“It’s the first time for me to come to Singapore” to recruit Asian students, Yukioka said.

In the past, Panasonic recruited Asians mainly to work for its subsidiaries outside Japan. Foreign students in Japan, who had studied Japanese, were also hired in Japan to work in Panasonic’s subsidiaries in Asian countries.

“But today is different. I can say that it’s the opposite way. I would like to hire foreign nationals who can speak Japanese and invite them to Japan as Japanese company employees.”

Japan’s demographic problem is one of the main factors prompting companies to search for talent overseas.

“The younger generation is now decreasing, so that we cannot expect very high-level students in Japan only, so . . . we have to seek the highly educated people from a worldwide basis.”

He said the students he interviewed that Saturday morning showed strong interest in working in Japan and also in Japanese culture, including anime.

The geographical proximity with Japan also makes it easier to recruit students from the region, he said.

He was going to meet 15 students that day and hoped to find three to work in Japan.

Asked whether he expected the new recruits to follow the Japanese tradition of lifetime employment, he said, “I don’t want to differentiate between foreign nationals and Japanese nationals, but if someone wants to go back to the home country, that kind of thing I have to accept.”

But in that case, he added, “we also have overseas sites in many countries” so it is possible for them to be transferred back to their home country to work for a Panasonic subsidiary.

Caniago Ardiansyah, an Indonesian in his early 20s who has studied Japanese literature, was applying for a sales job with a Japanese construction firm.

“I had passed the JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) entry level test. This would give me a chance to get work in Japan. This is a big chance for me to make my dream come true to go to Japan,” he said.

“Japan will be a good strong platform for a global career because a lot of their companies are starting to look outward,” he said.

Clifford Alexander, a 21-year-old student from Indonesia who will graduate in mechanical engineering in February, said: “I applied for this job in Japan because I really like the Japanese work ethic. The Japanese appreciate other people’s time and respect each other.

“Of course, Japan is one of the best countries for technology so I will get a great path for my life. I want to be one of the engineering managers in Japan.”

He was surprised when the opportunity came up.

“I didn’t know that Indonesian people can work in Japan, not overseas. . . . I cannot speak Japanese — only Bahasa Indonesia and English — but they say it’s OK. I think they will train me to speak Japanese.”

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