Hyogo elder care service hires nonprofessional soccer players to work at its facilities

Kyodo

An elder care provider in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, has hired 10 members of a local soccer team to become nursing care staff, a move that is attracting attention as a way to provide semiprofessional athletes with a stable income and ease the labor shortage in the industry at the same time.

“Let’s talk. In what year of Showa were you born?” asks Hiroki Murai, a 22-year-old member of the semipro soccer team Banditonce Kakogawa as he breaks the ice with residents of Futaba no Sato, a care home in the city of Ono run by the Kakogawa-based Hinode Medical & Welfare Group.

As a member of the staff, Murai communicates patiently with elderly residents who tend to have emotional ups and downs, talking with them and taking them for walks. He also engages in tasks that require physical strength, taking residents to the bathroom or helping them go to bed. His colleagues say they depend on him a great deal.

Banditonce Kakogawa belongs to the regional Kansai Soccer League. The team’s goal is to join the semiprofessional Japan Football League and eventually the J. League.

An affiliate of the Hinode group is one of the team’s sponsors, and the idea of hiring team members as regular employees came up at the beginning of the year when the group was planning to expand. In April, nine team members and a trainer began working at the group’s nursing care facilities.

Murai is one of two team members working at Futaba no Sato. On weekdays they practice for two hours in the morning and then head over to the care facility, about 10 km from the soccer field, to start work at noon.

“It is sometimes hard physically, but I feel reassured because people around me understand my conditions,” Murai said.

According to the team’s manager, Yasuharu Otsuka, 35, it has been difficult for the team to find jobs for its members, and many are employed as nonregular workers.

“Securing their living had been a pressing issue for the team. I’m grateful that the group is offering team members an environment where they can also concentrate on their practices.”

Young people, especially athletes, are much appreciated in the elder care industry, which involves a lot of physical labor.

“Athletes are tough and are also popular among care home residents,” said Toshiyuki Nishi, head of the group’s human resources division. “We are willing to hire athletes from other sports as well.”