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As countries around the world seek to improve their economies, the most productive and efficient countries are looking toward their workers. A new report has been developed by the World Economic Forum to examine how countries can create and maintain healthy, educated and able workers.

The Human Capital Index report, just released last month, is the first of its kind to examine the importance of human resources around the world.

Unfortunately Japan ranked 15th out of 122 countries in WEF’s first Human Capital Index. Among the various measures of the quality of a country’s human capital, Japan did fairly well in the area of health and wellness, but it ranked 28th in education, mostly because of the gender gap, where Japan came in at 74th. The economic participation gender gap was also a disappointing 88th.

Japan’s life expectancy and infant mortality took an impressive first place in the world. But high stress levels put Japan in 42nd place and high levels of depression put Japan in 97th place worldwide. Japanese may be living a long time, but they’re not liking work too well. The level of mental well-being is clearly a problem among Japanese workers.

Considering the size of Japan’s economy, these relatively low rankings point toward the need for the government and businesses to work harder to improve the workplace environment for workers. Japan needs to emphasize the quality of workers’ lives far more and invest in what pays off most in the long run —satisfied and competent employees. What the top 10 countries do is to invest heavily in recruiting, developing and retaining talented workers. Japan should do the same.

The top-ranking countries not only invest in human capital with excellent early education, but they also help students make the transition to the workplace. Japan’s workers are trained well in educational basics, but then encounter a missing link between their education and their employment. A better hiring system would clearly help to bridge that gap, with a greater number of internships and cooperative ventures between schools and companies. Hiring practices should aim at both worker and workplace satisfaction.

The main conclusion from the study is how much Japan’s gender gap keeps workplaces from making progress. A related conclusion is that workplaces need to address issues of mental well-being. The key to Japan’s future is the skills and talent of its workers, and those can only be fully realized when the government and businesses invest more time and energy into people.

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