Students graduating from the nation’s universities, two-year junior colleges and high schools next March are not likely to agree with the optimistic pronouncements being made about signs of a long-delayed recovery for Japan’s battered economy. Better days may indeed be ahead for the corporate world, as analysts in both the government and the public sector are claiming. If this is true, however, the improvement appears to be coming at least partly at the expense of the prospective graduates, for whom the hiring rate has sunk to an all-time low.

The bleak employment picture for all age groups remains a major social issue, and a source of ever-increasing public anxiety nationwide. For those young people who are being hindered from entering the workforce for the first time by the lack of available jobs, the situation could hardly be worse. The reported figures of 63.6 percent for graduating university and college students and 41.2 percent for those finishing high school who have received even informal employment notices are the lowest ever recorded. The numbers reflect decreases of 3.9 percent and 7.7 percent respectively from last year.

These figures do not come from the educational institutions themselves, many of which acknowledge a growing lack of success in helping prospective graduates find employment. The percentages are the result of an official government survey, undertaken jointly by the ministries of Labor and Education, which began conducting such studies in 1987. The fall in job offers for high school graduates is the greatest since the first of the surveys 12 years ago. With the continuing surge in corporate failures and so many companies, large and small, pursing drastic restructuring policies, no early automatic improvement in the job picture is being predicted.

Despite much talk and many promises, the government has failed to make any significant progress in increasing employment opportunities. Less than six months ago, members of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s previous Cabinet came up with a wide range of proposals intended to encourage the creation of new jobs. Corporate executives and labor union chiefs participated in talks with government leaders that were supposed to take advantage of their combined expertise. Little progress has been seen, however, and the national unemployment rate remained at a high 4.6 percent in September, according to the Management and Coordination Agency.

A large part of the problem facing job-seeking graduates lies in the new hiring practices adopted by many corporations in the face of the protracted recession. These include not only reductions in the number of new employees being hired, but even temporary postponement of any new hiring whatsoever. Under pressure from today’s severe corporate competition, some companies are seeking out experienced workers instead of taking on the usual crop of untrained graduates — mostly male — and molding them into “company men.” Job prospects thus are particularly dismal for women graduates and young people returning from study abroad with foreign-language expertise and other international experience not in immediate demand.

Some large corporations have ended the practice of mass mailings of company information to students and are turning to the Internet to introduce themselves and find qualified personnel. Among them are a growing number that will only accept applications through the Internet for employment seminars and job-opportunity information. The abolition two years ago of the former “gentleman’s agreement” between the nation’s corporations and universities that student job interviews should not be held until July 1 created new problems. The deadline was being increasingly ignored and proved to be unenforceable. With the job-hunting season now officially starting on April 1, some students are missing classes in order to attend employment interviews.

Some are having to delay graduation as a result because their theses are unfinished and, even so, are finding their job search fruitless. Educators are right to decry this new excuse for absenteeism, but the situation is unlikely to change until the employment picture improves. Two things are now clear from the prospects facing the next crop of graduates, even if the government should put meaningful job-creation policies in place. One is that computer literacy is essential, since more work opportunities will become available through the Internet than through traditional channels. The other is that the ratio of job offers to job-seekers will continue to fall, so that only dogged individual determination in the employment hunt can expect to be rewarded.

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