A recent ranking of global talent placed Japan at No. 20 worldwide for competitiveness and worker quality. Such a ranking is not terrible, but the survey reveals Japan’s lack of readiness for the future global economy, which will involve rapid technological changes and a highly mobile workforce, as well as demands for innovation, flexibility and diverse aptitudes in workers.
The survey by Insead Business School analyzed the basic government and business environment of different countries to gauge the extent to which they encourage creativity, responsiveness and adaptability in their businesses, and specifically to find how well those countries attract, develop and retain talented workers. The survey considered how prepared each country is for competing in the future knowledge economy.
The top three countries in the ranking — Switzerland, Singapore and Luxembourg — maintained their emphasis on producing and retaining top-quality workers despite the limitations of location, population or natural resources.
Japan, by comparison, may be a victim of its past success. The push to become truly innovative has been delayed in Japan since the social and business climate turned inward. That trend will need to be reversed if Japan is to foster companies that not only compete globally but also move into leading positions.
The most competitive countries traditionally have been a strong draw for immigrants. Japan needs to adjust its strategies for maintaining competitiveness by diversifying its workplaces as nearly all the top-ranked countries — including the United States and Canada (ranked fourth and fifth) and even the ones just ahead of Japan such as Iceland (17th), Belgium (18th) and Estonia (19th) — have done. The gap between Japanese and non-Japanese workers is widening.
Japan will also need to give greater priority to education — not the dull, one-way lecture type of education but rather a genuine engagement with students in creative and critical activities. The countries that consistently valued and incorporated talent into its workforce had educational styles that developed analytical, interpersonal and entrepreneurial skills. The survey showed that rather than some mysterious, innate quality, talent in fact depends largely on education. Japan needs to refocus on developing that.
Though Japan remains one of the world’s largest economies, it ranks relatively low in its potential to keep pace in the emerging world economy. As economies recover, more sophisticated ones will evolve worldwide. The survey showed that “talent” may be the most important currency in business and in society. The ability to grow and apply talent will be essential in the emerging dynamics of the future. Let’s hope Japan has the talent to recognize that.
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