National | Regional voices: Chubu

Aichi farm machinery firm taps foreign talent in the region to drive overseas sales

Chunichi Shimbun

Kohshin Engineering Co., which produces and sells agricultural equipment for poultry farming, has successfully expanded its overseas sales by hiring foreign employees.

Based in Ama, Aichi Prefecture, Kohshin Engineering is a small company with 35 employees. Its annual gross sales are approximately ¥700 million, and in some years sales from abroad have constituted up to 80 percent of the total.

“Everybody, regardless of nationality, likes to work by utilizing their unique skills. I simply made the management decision that I thought was appropriate,” said Hiroki Sumiya, 65, the president of the company.

The company’s factory is located next to its office. Mikee Rose Mejia, 24, from the Philippines is in charge of overseas sales. She uses mobile chat apps to converse with her clients in Spanish. One of them is a Mexican farm owner whom she called to make sure the equipment that had been installed was running properly.

It is now Mejia’s second year in the company. She studied foreign languages at a university in Kansai, and joined a Japanese taxi company after graduation.

But she wanted to “work in a place where she can use her language skills,” so she changed jobs in the summer of 2016.

Now she uses both English and Spanish, and spends one-third of the year conducting sales activities in Central and South America and Europe.

Meanwhile, Arnolfo T. Tangi, 52, who is also from the Philippines, is in charge of sales in Southeast Asia. He has experience working in a manufacturing department for nearly 20 years.

“He has worked on-site for many years and has obtained the trust of our customers’ engineers,” said Sumiya.

Six months ago, the company hired a man from the Dominican Republic to be in charge of sales in Central and South America.

Kohshin Engineering was established in 1972. The company manufactures equipment to compost chicken manure, feeding machines for chicken coops and other machines, but it predicted that the domestic market would shrink so in 2000 it began expanding its overseas sales channel.

Sumiya was in charge of sales at the time and visited some countries alone. He only started hiring foreign employees to be in charge of overseas sales when he became president of the company in 2012.

Now, Kohshin Engineering has customers in 30 countries — including the Philippines, Brazil and Romania — and overseas sales support the business. “Some foreigners want to join our company after they hear that they can be in charge of overseas sales,” said Sumiya. “We can hire good employees and expand our market further,” he added.

Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, a private think tank, held a symposium on Feb. 27 in Nagoya on the topic of revolutionizing Japan’s working style. They noted that professional foreigners, women and seniors are not hired so frequently in Aichi Prefecture.

According to statistics released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2017 a record-breaking number of 130,000 foreigners are working in Aichi Prefecture, but “highly skilled foreign professionals” only account for 12 percent. That’s 7 percentage points lower than the national average, which indicates that the tendency to view foreign workers as cheap labor is still strong in Aichi.

The latest statistics reveal that there are roughly 9,000 foreign students in the three prefectures of the Tokai region. Approximately 70 percent of them want to work in Japan after graduation, but only just over 1,100 find employment in the region every year.

Most companies focus on their Japanese language skills, but chief researcher Ayumi Minamida thinks that “there is fierce competition to hire global talents, and it is a waste not to hire foreigners who are skilled in other areas simply because their Japanese (is not good enough).”

Aichi has the highest ratio of men aged between 25 and 44 in its workforce compared to other prefectures.

“It shows that the prefecture has acquired sufficient men who are in the prime of their working life, but conversely, it means it does not have a diverse workforce, with women and seniors,” Minamida said.

“With aging progressing in the population, the habit of hiring mostly Japanese men in their prime should be changed,” she added.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published March 1.