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The infrastructure ministry is stepping up a program to improve the treatment of construction workers so they can work longer in the industry, amid expectations of labor shortages in the future.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry introduced a computer system in cooperation with the construction industry last year to register laborers’ work history and qualifications.

A quarter of construction workers are 60 or older, while those 15 to 29 account for only 11.0 percent of the workforce, according to a 2017 survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. The finding strongly suggests that construction sites will face a serious shortage of labor in the near future.

The way construction workers are treated and paid often does not reflect their skills and experience, partly because their workplaces change frequently. This is one reason why young people tend to avoid the work.

Under the infrastructure ministry’s system, four types of identification cards are issued to reflect people’s work history and qualifications. Employees can move up the ladder if they achieve set standards, such as certified skills and number of days worked.

This “visualization” of skills and experience encourages workers to pursue higher wages and better treatment, a ministry official said.

Despite the passage of a year since the system was introduced, however, only some 220,000 workers were registered as of the end of March, far fewer than the ministry’s target of a million. “We should increase the publicity for the system and make the benefits of registration more understandable,” the official said.

In March, the ministry announced a plan to apply the system to all construction sites by fiscal 2023, which ends in March 2024. As the first step toward the goal, it will adopt the system for model projects chosen from public works financed by the central government. If a contractor makes full use of the system, the company will be given additional appraisal points in assessments of its work, the ministry said.

By March, furthermore, 13 governments had introduced or planned to introduce programs to give higher assessments to construction companies registered with the system, during bidding for their public works projects. The ministry will call for more governments to follow suit.

Construction is regarded as typical of industries featuring what is known in Japanese as the “3 Ks” — kitsui (hard), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous). The ministry is trying to change the image of the sector into a “favorable 3 Ks” — kyūryō (wages), kyūka (vacation) and kibo (hope) — through such measures as improving working conditions and promoting a five-day workweek by making use of the system.

“The system is a shared infrastructure for the construction industry to encourage young people to join its workforce and raise the retention rate for them,” infrastructure minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said. “We will promote it to ensure the payment of wages matching workers’ skills and experience.”

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