Challenges and solutions to hiring in Japan

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If you plan to expand your business to Japan and need tips for recruiting in Japan, you aren’t alone. Many employers seek similar information as it always pays to be better prepared before you start hiring in a foreign land. Though your search for top talent in Japan won’t be easy, you can still find and hire them if you plan right and back it up with proper execution.

If you think recruiting in Japan will be easy-peasy, think again. The country has one of the lowest job openings-to-applicants ratio of about 1.35 as of the last release by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training based on 2022 data.

The Manpower Global Talent Shortage Survey revealed (in 2018) that Japan was the toughest nation to recruit in amongst 43 countries. The situation hasn’t changed much because Japan still remains one of the most difficult countries to hire in.

Let’s take a look at the key challenges you will face as a recruiter when hiring in Japan and how you can overcome them.

1.     Candidates Don’t Actively Look For Jobs

The attitude of Japanese people toward careers is quite different from what you usually see everywhere else. In Japan, when a person joins a company, he or she tends to stick to the employer for a long term, sometimes for life. Thus, these people rarely look for a job change and aren’t usually active on social networking platforms or other career and job sites. Even when they are looking for jobs, they want their job search to be discreet lest they should get branded as disloyal by their present employers and colleagues.

In Japan, people put a lot of value into a company’s brand and the job security it offers. Due to a scarcity of suitable talent, companies tend to retain their people, thus giving their employees a level of job security that you won’t easily get at many other places across the world.

In Japan, traits like honour, loyalty, and respect are valued highly. This means changing jobs frequently, even if it’s for career growth and development, will be considered somewhat adversely and the person could be branded as someone who’s unreliable and fickle. As a result, you will come across fewer candidates who are actively looking to switch jobs and/or take up open positions.

Solution: Your job offer should be lucrative enough to lure Japanese workers to leave their existing job that’s stable and pays well. Since Japanese professionals are known for their hard work, employees are often found to spend long hours at work (overtime beyond the mandated 40 hours weekly with an 8-hour workday will have to get the government’s approval at first though), which interrupts their work-life balance.

When recruiting internationally, you can focus on offering your potential Japanese employees not just better salaries and benefits but vacation days, and incentives like discounted gym memberships, crèche for babies, etc. As big companies in Japan are venturing into the territory of a 4-day workweek, it would pay to follow suit and offer the same when recruiting in Japan. This way, you can help your employees achieve that seemingly elusive work-life balance.

Since LinkedIn or other job boards won’t be of much help when recruiting in Japan, it will be wise to join hands with a global headhunting company like InHuntWorld, which has expertise in hiring in Japan. This will expedite the search and help you find suitable talent to fill the open roles much faster and a lot more seamlessly than doing everything on your own and then waiting endlessly for the desired results. Doing these things could tip the scales in your favour and encourage your potential employees to accept the job offer.

2.     Language Barrier

As an employer who’s ready to tap into opportunities for global expansion and wants to unlock a wider talent pool by hiring in Japan, the going could be tough. Though creating a more diverse workplace and growing your business as a global brand with a certain level of reputation seems good on paper, the language barrier in Japan could create problems in your recruitment spree.

English skills pose a serious problem as some estimates say just 30% of the Japanese population can speak English at any level, and only about 8% to 10% can speak it fluently. For an overseas company looking to hire local talent, such language barriers can make the entire process pretty difficult.

Solution: Putting English as one of the top priorities in your hiring checklist could significantly bring down the available talent pool by at least 85%, according to some estimates. When recruiting in Japan, you should assess if having strong spoken English is necessary to succeed in the role. If not, you can be open to hiring candidates who are stronger in their reading and writing English skills compared to their speaking skills.

If fluency in English is mandatory, you could consider upskilling your Japanese employees by encouraging them to take up English classes or even arrange for them to attend such a class, perhaps at discounted rates. You could even consider filling the role with a Japanese professional and hiring a translator or interpreter who will work closely with the new hire to ensure no communication gaps arise.

3.     An Aging Labour Force

With an aging population, recruiters could have a tough time filling vacant positions. Despite the Japanese economy ranking third presently at an estimate of $5.05 trillion, its aging workforce could spell trouble.

In 2022, its labour force consisted of about 8.5 million people aged between 45 to 49 years. This was the largest age group among Japan’s total labour force, which during that year stood at almost 69 million people.

Labour force in japan

Image courtesy: Statista

Though many global companies are no longer biased against an aging workforce, it could still pose a few problems depending on which industry and position you are trying to hire for. For instance, if you are recruiting for C-level positions, an experienced and aged professional would bring a lot of expertise to the table that’s worth having. But if you plan to hire for tedious, manual processes that can’t be automated with just a human to supervise, an aging workforce could soon start showing chronic, physical difficulties.

Solution: Your plans for hiring in Japan should focus on getting the older workers for senior-level positions (say, managerial) and mentorship roles (to train and mentor the younger workers, thus reducing the skill gap to a great extent).

You could even hire them to work in shifts or for short-term projects, part-time or contractual jobs, etc., to ensure you leverage their talent and expertise without putting them under physical strain or mental stress.

Wrapping up

In addition to Japan’s largely inactive candidate pool, language barrier, and aging labour force, the country’s immigration policy and widening skill gap too could create problems for recruiters. You can’t call Japan immigration-friendly. Since its immigration policy is pretty restrictive, which deters foreigners from coming and settling into the country by accepting a job offer, it contributes to widening the skill gap.

As a result, you will find the hiring process in Japan to be very competitive. But things are changing slowly and hopefully, as more global companies set shop in Japan or expand their business to the country’s shores, hiring in Japan will no longer be as tough as it’s now.

If you need to hire local talent for your Japanese arm of the business and think you can’t do it on your own, we would suggest you talk to our expert headhunters.

Ready to act and start recruiting in Japan like a true pro with InHuntWorld?

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