National / Social Issues

OECD urges Japan to boost social services for young people, curb ranks of NEETs

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has urged Japan to improve social services for young people, in particular women, to enable and motivate more active participation in the labor market.

In its latest report on the state of disadvantaged young people disclosed Monday, the OECD urged Japan to reduce the number of people aged 15 to 29 who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs), which stood at 1.7 million in 2015, equivalent to 10 percent of the total demographic.

The Paris-based organization warned that the loss of opportunities, especially for women, may negatively impact the labor market in the future as Japan continues to struggle with its shrinking and rapidly aging population.

Maximum participation of youths in the labor market is “critical in the current economic and demographic context in Japan,” Stephane Carcillo, the organization’s senior economist, said during an interview in Tokyo.

According to the OECD, the number of young people in the workforce in Japan has shrunk by about 1.5 million over the past decade.

Carcillo expressed concern over the poor participation of women in the labor market, and over insufficient social support that discourages women from working.

“About two-thirds of NEETs are women,” Carcillo said, adding that young women are 1.7 times more likely to be out of employment than young men regardless of their education level.

Monika Queisser, who heads the organization’s social policy division, said social support for women is “the most urgent” issue that needs to be addressed as it would also better integrate women of other age groups into the labor market.

She also said the government should make efforts to ensure that more women continue work as regular employees upon return from maternity leave.

Queisser said the situation of sharing family responsibilities has not changed much since the government’s launch of the “Ikumen Project” in 2010, aimed at encouraging fathers to actively engage in parenting.

According to the OECD, the employment rate of mothers with children under the age of 2 stood at 48 percent, lower than the OECD average of 52 percent. The gender gap among NEETs in Japan is larger than in most of the other 34 OECD member countries.

Carcillo, who works on labor and social issues for the OECD, said Japan should seek policies that cater to the needs of a growing number of women aspiring to juggle work with child care.

But many, Carcillo added, face social barriers such as a lack of access to institutional child care or a lack of affordability. As a result, they choose to be nonregular workers, which hinders their career advancement.

The OECD experts also said Japan should provide opportunities for young people to acquire technical skills through professionalized vocational training programs to help them secure high-quality employment.

Compared to other OECD countries, such a vocational training system in Japan is underdeveloped and is less valued than mainstream schooling.

Queisser speculated that Japan’s traditional lifetime employment system will gradually disappear and so will the traditional model of vocational training provided on-the-job by employers, which is becoming less viable as companies tend to hire temporary workers.

“Something that all young people will need more than in the past is adaptability. They have to have the flexibility to adapt to new changing situations,” and fluidity in the labor market, Queisser said.

Queisser and Carcillo said they believe such solutions would also prevent young people from disconnecting from society.

According to the OECD report, the number of young people who withdraw from society is growing in Japan, with an estimated 320,000 young people below the age of 30 regarded as hikikomori (shut-ins) who have not been able to lead a life outside their homes for a long period.

Carcillo said Japan should improve its social service outreach and develop activities to attract such people back into society.

He said that although assistance for shut-ins is available at a number of support centers across the country, only 18,000 made use of it in 2014, adding that those who cannot or refuse to leave their homes have little access to such services.

He suggested that Japan should refer to programs adopted in such countries as Australia and Norway, which include fun events linked to mentoring and counseling designed to encourage people to reach out.