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Promote Recruitment of International Students - Human Resource Acquisition in a Globally Competitive Age -

Mitsuhide Shiraki
Professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics and Dean of the Center for International Education, Waseda Unviersity


The purpose of accepting foreign workers is mentioned in a report published in 2002 by the Foreigners Employment Study Group at Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, which is based on an awareness of necessity to attract highly skilled "high level human resources" to Japan to revitalize the Japanese economy. This position still remains the same.

An important point is that utilization of foreign human resources should not be directly connected to labour force decrease. My fundamental position on the acceptance of foreign human resources is that they should be asked to participate in the essential part to enhance productivity for long-term economic growth in Japan and to support the Japanese economy.

Facing a globally competitive age, firms around the world are making every effort to acquire talent across borders. Most of Japanese firms, however, started late in this competition. On the other hand, many of international students who have studied in Japan go back to their country immediately after graduation. This essay discusses from a viewpoint of "believe in quality rather than quantity" how international students should be accepted by Japanese firms and settled in Japan in a satisfactory manner.

2. Do firms really demand international students?

In the first place, the argument needs to begin with recognizing the facts that foreign workers with professional skills or knowledge have not sufficiently come to Japan and that among international students, who potentially become human resources of such kind, only fewer than half are employed by Japanese firms after graduation. How should firms and the Japanese society deal with this situation?

According to Careers and Academic Degrees of International Students 2006 published by Japan Student Services Organization, 35,000 international students graduated in Japan, among whom 2,596 graduated from doctoral courses, 6,850 from master's courses, 12,196 from undergraduate programs and 10,354 from professional training colleges (professional courses). Those who found a job in Japan accounted for 29.3% of the aggregate graduate (unknown cases excluded). This proportion varies according to the level of education. The proportion for professional training colleges (professional courses) is especially low, because the rate of advancement to a higher level of education from them is relatively high 56.8%.

As shown above, only 29.3% of international students who finished higher education in Japan were employed by Japanese firms. For the rest, 39.5% proceeded to a higher level of education in Japan, 20.3% went back to their country, 0.8% moved to another country, 10.1% did something else (including those who are continuing job hunting after graduation), etc.

In any case, 9,411 graduates found a job in Japan after graduation from Japanese universities or graduate schools, and together with 3,242 graduates who are continuing job hunting, the number of job finders in Japan in the broad sense is 12,653 (36.2% of the total graduate). They will change their residential status from "Collage Student" to "Specialist in Humanities / International Services" (for humanities and social science students) or "Engineer" (for natural science students).

3. What are key factors for recruitment and settlement of international students?

Apart from mismatches between firms and international students, firms are in a strong position about recruitment. Thus firms need to commit themselves to elaborating employment management to attract and settle talent.

First, efforts should be made for expanding frameworks and diversifying careers in recruiting. Many firms, especially those listed on the first section of TSE or equivalent, often secure no posts for international students. They merely offer employment opportunities to new graduates and hire applicants in order of evaluation results. International students who honestly admit that they want to go back to their country several years later are declined simply for the reason of this confession. Even though lifelong employment is currently assumed, failure of eliminating such intolerance would keep recruitment of foreign human resources difficult. Tolerant recruitment or employment systems need to be prepared, such that "If you want to work only 3 or 4 years, that is fine with us, but we want you to contribute to us during that period. We the group companies as a whole will discuss your next career with you afterwards." Or they will fail to recruit talent.

Second, both firms and international students need to make more efforts to improve communication and the way of working. A main objective of Career Development Program for Foreign Students from Asia promoted by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is to familiarize international students with the manner of decision making, work and communication within Japanese firms and, to this end, to develop characteristic programs through academic-industrial cooperation. In fact, there are many foreigners who are endowed with talent but remain disadvantageous because their style of speaking or behavior prevents them from being accepted by the Japanese society.

Third, an idea that international students have a higher job change rate, which seems prevailing, may be a prejudice or statistical discrimination. At the same time, firms should be aware that how well they have improved and maintained motivation of international students is in question. Japanese firms also bear a similar problem overseas. For example, employee turnover tends to be higher in China and India due to continuous rapid economic growth. Because opportunities are numerous, people with more ambition and competence are more likely to move. The problem is, therefore, whether appropriate measures have been set forth for this issue.

4. Problem with international students

As for international students, they also have a certain problem. International students come to Japan with their own consciousness of issues in mind, have strong motivation for enhancing their own ability and potential and are ambitious about their future. At the same time, they have a problem that they are extremely major or prestigious company-oriented. This is somewhat understandable because, anticipating future steps after returning to their home country, they may well consider entering a famous company advantageous.

However, it is necessary to let them know that there are many world-class companies among small- and middle-sized firms in Japan, or they would give up finding a job in Japan and go back to their country if they could not be employed by a major firm. This is nothing but loss of human resources.

It is also necessary to let independence-minded international students know that acquiring working experience at a small- or middle-sized company is actually a better way of accumulating powerful know-how for starting a firm or a venture business in the future. This is because young employees are responsible for a broader range of tasks in a small- or middle-sized company to the extent that they can build up substantial experience in a shorter period. Small- and middle-sized firms also need to make sufficient efforts to appeal this point to them. At the same time, the government should further devise measures or offer opportunities enough to make technological and management strength of these small- and middle-sized firms well known to international students.

Of course, Japanese firms, whether large or small, need to demonstrate possibility of promotion to senior management or above for strongly motivated and ambitious international students, as well as for Japanese students. They should attract those students in this way. If successful, this would enhance possibility of cultivating and utilizing international students as prospect management of their head offices or overseas subsidiaries, leading to steady transition of Japanese firms to "transnational organizations" where management resources are spread beyond their head offices.

This is the way to expand the possibility of international students shaping their career at Japanese firms. In order to achieve it, however, it is important to attract to Japan those international students who have endowments to meet it. Here exists a significant role to be played by the government and universities.

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, Foreigners Employment Study Group Report
Japan Student Services Organization, Careers and Academic Degrees of International Students 2006
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Career Development Program for Foreign Students from Asia
Immigration Bureau of Japan, Employment of International Students by Japanese Firms 2006
The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, Research on Recruitment of International Students
[Full Text]http://www.jil.go.jp/institute/research/2008/042.htm

Mitsuhide Shiraki
Professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics and Dean of the Center for International Education, Waseda Unviersity

Brief profile of the author:

He was born in 1951, graduated from School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, and finished the Doctoral Program at Graduate School of Economics, Waseda University. Ph.D. in economics. After serving as Assistant Professor and Professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Kokushikan University, he has been Professor at School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, since April 1999, then Professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, since 2005. He is also a member of Labour Policy Council and Vice President for Japan Society of Human Resource Management.

Recent Works:

Human Resource Management of China Shift (editor and contributor) (Hakutou Shobou, 2005), Comparative Analysis of International Human Resource Management (sole) (Yuhikaku, 2006), Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis (translation supervisor) (Waseda University Press, 2007)