By Oscar Johnson
Most Japanese firms plan to increase hiring in 2008 and when combined with evolving attitudes about changing jobs it signals good news about the long-term growth and sustainability of executive recruiting firms, HR and the recruitment industry as a whole.
About 46 percent of 109 surveyed firms will recruit more new graduates in April 2008 than they did this year, while 38 percent will take on the same number, according to a Kyoto News poll in March. (About 11 percent hadn't decided.) In addition to Japan's shrinking workforce, "growth" and "international expansion" were cited as major factors. Needless to say, that includes a burgeoning recruitment industry. The global industry jumped 10 percent to 36.17 trillion yen ($308 billion) in 2006, with Japan being one of the hottest markets and, by one account, comprising 14 percent of the global market, Gulf News reported in March. But the economic uptick behind current industry growth is not all there is to look forward to.
Evolving attitudes of these new recruits show that the next generation of mid-career professionals will be far more open to finding alternative employment than their predecessors. While job satisfaction for Japanese aged 18 to 24 was on par with those in South Korea, Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. (70 to 80 percent), more than half - 53 percent - in 2003 believed job dissatisfaction was grounds for finding better work, according to the World Youth Survey. The figure is up from 43.7 percent in 1998, indicating a significant shift in the views of a workforce once wed to the notion of one employer for life.
Overall, local attitudes about turning to recruiters have also been on the rise - especially regarding firms specializing in management-level and executive search and placement. "The tradition of a job for life is definitely changing in Tokyo and the importance of working for a Japanese firm is declining," Steve Ingham, chief executive of recruiter Michael Page International, told Gulf News. What this means for the industry is evidenced by the number of international recruitment firms such as Michael Page and Robert Walters that have flocked to Japan from the UK since the 1990s in hopes of offsetting the effects of a maturing market at home.
For example, about 3.21 million people found new employment in 2000. While social pressures not to switch firms have been slow to change in Japan, candidates that do enlist the aid of recruiters to find better opportunities has risen exponentially over the past decade, according to data published by East West Consulting. This is particularly true of executive search firms. The estimated number of job placements by recruiters and similar firms surged from 7,000 to more than 40,000 between 1994 and 1999. And about 11 percent of management-level professionals that changed jobs in 1998 used search firms.
The increased internationalization of firms is playing a big role in the rise of Japan's search and placement needs - especially for bilingual professionals. However, it is also having a gradual impact on attitudes about changing jobs. While too much moving from firm to firm can be an eyesore on any résumé or CV, at foreign firms and affiliates, managers are just as likely to look askance at candidates who have stayed too long in one position or firm. As more Japanese firms internationalize and face tough global competition, the demand by these firms for candidates that demonstrate initiative and motivation - not just loyalty - is sure to increase. Moving on to a bigger and better job can indicate such drive.
One Japanese professional, for example, was dismayed by his colleagues' reaction when he boasted of his decades with the firm while visiting its U.S. office: "They asked, 'what's wrong; didn't you have any opportunities to move on?'" This interaction not only illustrates the perception foreign firms and multinationals can have about staying put too long. It also points to how the winds of internationalization can help cross-pollinate corporate cultures and over time contribute further to Japan's already changing view of mid-career job change.
That is not to say, however, that the winds of change are blowing across the minds of Japan's workforce like a typhoon. It appears that changing jobs to advance a career can be a tough sell even to the younger generation. While the number of young workers and professionals who thought it good to change jobs due to dissatisfaction did jump nearly 10 percent between the past two World Youth Surveys (1998 and 2003). The poll, which is taken every five years, also showed that the number of those in favor of changing jobs to make the most of their abilities actually fell by nearly 8 percentage points to 14.2 percent for the same period.