National / Social Issues

Local governments in Japan get creative in bid to secure child care workers

Kyodo

Local governments are desperately trying to recruit licensed child care workers in a bid to address an acute shortage in day care staff.

As part of their strategy, they are emphasizing favorable labor conditions, such as short commuting distances and reasonable working hours, in a bid to attract licensed child care workers, including those who are stay-at-home moms.

In April, Ibaraki Prefecture launched a program to introduce prospective licensed child care workers to day care centers for children in cooperation with ManpowerGroup Co., a staffing firm in Yokohama.

To recruit as many workers as possible, the prefectural government is prioritizing efforts to meet desired working conditions, without expecting staff to work full time.

To make it more likely that workers will stay, Ibaraki offers prospects a one-month trial, fully paid, so that they can get a feel for the workplace — the first such program in Japan.

Sachiko Watanabe, 35, of Tsukuba, Ibaraki, has returned to child care work after a one-year hiatus thanks to the program. She works Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. while raising three boys.

Watanabe welcomed the one-month trial as she felt it made the job easier once she got started. “I was able to get a good sense of my work environment and the relationships at the day care center during the trial period,” she said.

According to ManpowerGroup, 24 child care workers have returned to the workforce under the program, many of whom have opted for part-time work to avoid overtime or weekend work. The oldest is a 63-year-old.

Amid a severe shortfall in child care workers, the ratio of effective job offers to seekers stood at 2.79 in September, meaning roughly three child care centers are competing to hire one worker.

Local governments are striving to secure child care workers with additional pay or rent subsidies. In urban areas with long waiting lists for day care, facilities are being improved at a fast pace to attract child care workers, while young workers able to work long hours are being lured with higher pay.

But in rural areas unable to secure enough workers, understaffed day care centers are going out of business despite the demand that exists for their services.

Competition between local governments to recruit child care workers with favorable job terms is nearing its limit, said an official. “At any rate, we’re in no position to compete.”

But competition for child care workers is predicted to increase as early childhood education and child care services are expected to become free of charge next October, adding to demand for day care center places.

A growing sense of urgency is prompting local governments to take countermeasures.

The Toyooka city office in Hyogo Prefecture, for example, has begun to reform working practices at day care centers on a trial basis, in cooperation with child care consultants, to increase options for part-time work, so that even unlicensed people can work as child care staff based on their experience of raising children.

“We want to secure workers by making improvements to conditions so that child care work is attractive as an occupation,” an official in charge said.