Why Global Mobility is Crucial in Japan

CEOs around the world are coping with talent and skills shortages as they seek to anticipate and quickly pivot around disruptive technologies. In fact, findings from the Conference Board’s C-Suite Challenge 2019™ report that globally, business leaders rank attracting and retaining top talent as their primary internal concern. The time is ripe for innovation in the way businesses recruit, develop, train and deploy their workforces.

The need for innovation is felt acutely in Japan, where a relatively small population drives the world’s third-largest economy. Facing severe labor shortages exacerbated by a rapidly aging workforce, declining birthrates and a culture that historically favored tight reins on immigration, Japanese business, government and academic leaders are working to simultaneously foster new ways to promote internal skill-building while importing foreign talent. HR and workforce mobility professionals can make significant strategic contributions to those efforts, particularly in the following core areas.

Employment and Immigration Law

In its research on ways to address global skills shortages while keeping pace in the digital economy, The ManpowerGroup identified a four-part strategy, effectively blending a “build, buy, borrow and bridge” approach to talent. Whether boosting skills from within, by investing in learning, development and training for staff; purchasing skills from external sources to fill gaps; borrowing needed talent from part-time, freelance, contract or project-based workers; or creating career bridges between jobs and organizations to develop future leaders, high levels of human capital competencies are critical to all four strategies. As the need for innovative and flexible talent solutions grows, HR and global mobility teams become increasingly vital partners in their design, compliance, implementation and assessment.

What does that look like in practice? Let’s return for a moment to the Conference Board’s global C-Suite Challenge 2019TM survey, which asked CEOs to define the successful company in Japan in 2025. They acknowledged the importance of focusing on talent, but also identified a need to foster “external networks and nontraditional partnerships to drive innovation while embracing a more entrepreneurial internal culture; and redefine work with agile, fluid teams as the new work nexus.”

A reliance on strong networks, partnerships and the team approach is woven into the DNA of global mobility professionals. They regularly call upon the expertise of regional and industry-specific partners to successfully transition talent throughout all phases of the process, while HR teams help keep business unit leaders, employees and their family members informed, compliant and focused on the end goals.

To successfully implement both a blended approach to filling talent gaps while also fostering innovative and agile teams, decision makers will need proven legal expertise to evaluate and advise on the tax, wage and labor implications of points-based, highly skilled and other types of visa and immigration programs. In addition, ongoing assessment of the impact of the educational and language-proficiency level requirements; eligibility of accompanying family members; terms around length of stay, renewability, and paths to permanent residence will all need to be looked at holistically to measure various programs’ effectiveness—and Japanese competitiveness—in the global war for talent.

Social, Cultural and Language Considerations

An added layer of complexity in Japan is that many of these globally applicable solutions have required significant local cultural shifts, which we see gradually taking hold in its workforce.

Tapping into an existing internal market to build skills within the female population has required some cultural rethinking, for example. In a Strategy + Business article, Japan’s Far More Female Future author Bill Emmott notes that “the Japanese corporation, like Japanese society itself, has long been a rather rigid affair, with conservative HR policies and overwhelmingly male in its leadership and character. This is all poised to change, potentially dramatically, over the next two decades. Japan promises to have a far more female future, one that will challenge corporations to become more flexible, creative, and diverse.”

Related: See For Japan’s Workforce, The Future is Female

Borrowing and buying talent often involves bringing it in from another country. Whether physically moving people into Japan or tapping into global skills remotely, the ability for teams to communicate effectively is vital for success. Taking the lesson from early immigration reform efforts with rigid language proficiency tests that left many semi-skilled jobs unfilled, government and industry leaders have made investing in language training a priority.

Related: See How Japan is Tackling Language Learning for Foreigners

To successfully bridge talent, employees must be able to learn from other roles, organizations and even industries – a concept less likely to be seen in Japan until relatively recently. As an article on rising levels of citizens changing jobs in the Japan Times put it, “So-called job-hopping goes against the grain of Japan’s work culture, where many companies hire graduates and employ them until they retire. But the jobs-for-life system is slowly giving way…switching jobs for better conditions is no longer taboo within the tightening labor market, and the trend is being led by mid-career workers.”

The Technology Sector: Bringing It All Together

Tech firms are often front-runners when it comes to fostering entrepreneurial teams and trying new ways to fill talent gaps. Japan has traditionally been viewed as a leader in technological innovation, too. But the speed with which AI is being integrated into global businesses has some worried that talent scarcities in this critical area could result in the country quickly falling behind. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently unveiled a plan to train 250,000 people in AI annually by 2025, many Japanese companies are implementing their own global recruitment, compensation and internal training strategies to fast-track the process. For example, Daikin, the world’s biggest maker of air conditioners, has created its own in-house program to train new graduates and current employees – many with little to no background in AI – with a goal of making 1,000 employees AI-savvy by 2022. In a comprehensive and collaborative agreement with Osaka University, it developed a new educational hub within its Technology and Innovation Center, to “foster human resources capable of developing AI-driven technologies and businesses, and lead to innovation by combining Osaka University's state-of-the-art information sciences with Daikin's air conditioning technologies and wealth of data.”

Line, the leading messaging and social media app in Japan, reported that 60 percent of the engineers at its Fukuoka location hailed from countries other than Japan as of spring 2018. It is also seeking to bolster the global team at its newer, development-focused Kyoto location, with recruitment efforts that include visa application and moving support, language training and additional engineering-related career development and learning opportunities.

What’s the bottom line? Successfully addressing Japan’s talent shortage and ensuring its future as an economic and technology powerhouse depends on a multi-faceted, holistic approach. An approach that needs to consider internal training and development, innovative immigration plans and policies, the flexibility to incorporate multiple classifications of diverse employees and teams across several skill sets and levels, and embraces the importance of cultural, language and social understanding and adaptability. It’s a tall order, but the global talent mobility industry is uniquely qualified and ready to help take up the challenge.

Join us in Tokyo as we explore each of these areas in more detail at the 5 September Talent Mobility Summit.


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