New graduates face gloomy job prospects

TOKYO —

The recession of the 1990s spawned a hiring “ice age” that froze many able young people out of the regular full-time job market. One lingering result is that roughly one-third of Japan’s work force is now “irregular,” getting by on part-time jobs or short-term contract work that leads nowhere.

Things had begun looking up when last year’s “Lehman shock” sent Japan reeling into another “ice age,” says Shukan Gendai (Nov 21). What will become, it asks, of the 120,000 fourth-year university students who will graduate next spring? Are they doomed to be the core of another “lost generation?”

Job fairs in Tokyo last month were crammed to overflowing with young men and women in “recruit suits,” gamely checking out the shrinking possibilities at booths set up by companies so employers and prospective employees could get to know each other. Some students spoke of waiting in line for six hours just to get inside one booth. Generally, these events are attended by fourth-year students, but some of those present were in their third year, an indication of deepening anxiety. “Bad as it is now, I hear it’ll be even worse next year,” said one. “I’m here because it seemed best to get started as early as possible.”

She may have read the survey put out by the job information firm Recruit. It forecasts 23.5% fewer jobs for new grads next spring, as compared to last spring. Or perhaps she heard the situation framed in darker terms. “Our data shows,” a counselor at a leading job placement agency tells Shukan Gendai, “that 90% of ’09 grads had job offers in hand by August ‘08. By August this year, that could be said of only 30% of next spring’s grads.” Some corporations, the counselor adds, are even considering cutting their annual spring hiring of new grads to once every two years.

So preoccupied are final-year students with their job prospects, or lack of them, that academic work gets short shrift, universities affirm. Classrooms are empty, theses are going unwritten. “In my class of 40 fourth-year students,” says a professor at a regional college, “only four had jobs lined up as of September. That’s the lowest number ever.” In October, he says, he actually canceled seminars to go to Tokyo to lobby corporate employers on behalf of his students.

A degree from the prestigious University of Tokyo (Todai) used to be a passport to a life of power and influence. Less so now, Shukan Gendai finds. The bureaucracy for which Todai traditionally groomed most of its students is under fire for corruption and abuse of power. A new era is dawning, in which the private sector looks more attractive. But the private sector has doubts about Todai.

“I’m discovering at job interviews,” says a fourth-year Todai literature student, “that Todai has little appeal to the business world. When I ask why I’ve failed a company exam, they tell me, ‘You people think we’ll hire you just because you’re from Todai?’”

Some corporate personnel officers insist that, the sinking economy notwithstanding, students would do better in the job market if they exercised a little ordinary common sense. There are cases (naturally) of male interviewees making fools of themselves trying to come on sexually to female recruiters. That aside, Shukan Gendai hears an all-too-typical story of a student showing up late for a corporate job seminar and being asked to attend the next one instead. The student storms out in a rage, huffing, “There’s no future for me at this company!” Or at any other one either, probably.

  • 0

    Goodguy

    This is the cold reality of the modern globalized world. Japanese students need to realize that simply graduating from Todai, Waseda, or Keio means less than before.

  • 0

    bcbrownboy

    Yep, my seminar is jobless except for one student who has a promise at a large, but silly company. And I wonder if they'll withdraw the offer as the year goes on. And my superiors are harassing me daily, like I can change the situation and get them jobs.

  • 0

    kirakira25

    This would actually be quite funny if it didn`t have such serious repurcussions for society.

    In any case, welcome to the real world Japan. The corporate escalators all have maintenance signs on them, and the politicians are in their overalls, scratching their heads and wondering how to fix them.

    So much for a Todai degree....

  • 0

    5SpeedRacer5

    I think this headline is a repeat from 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002......

    There is an obvious disconnect here. If education were the golden key to getting a job, then unemployed people would be clamoring to upgrade their educational background. If people who have been in the workplace shun university programs, then how valuable can they be?

    If I were 18 or 23 today, I would be hustling to get high paying 3K jobs, saving my money, and moving on. That has got to be better than dithering and whining year after year.

  • 0

    Gaijinocchio

    When I ask why I’ve failed a company exam, they tell me, ‘You people think we’ll hire you just because you’re from Todai?’”

    I'd argue that having connections and real-world experience is more useful to finding gainful employment, especially in Japan. A friend or family member in a company will assure a placement in said company. Graduate school, primarily in business and 100% in International Business, is 1/2 about befriending people in high places and 1/2 internships.

    Sadly the skill of communication here is changing from face-to-face to virtual communication. I think these graduates think companies will come to them automatically, but they must go out and actively get more than just a Todai education, especially in a prolonged recession.

  • 0

    Badsey

    I never liked being interviewed and I have always had my engineering portfolio with me basically saying what I can do and what I have done. I think having a portfolio even as a college or high school student is very important. When you are looking for work you really don't have time to waste and need a yes or no. I don't believe I do interviews anymore.

    Many young people use a web page or website as their portfolio now -I believe that is the future and is very smart. =Always looking for something better and marketing/selling themself.

  • 0

    kokorocloud

    Yeah... Them and everyone I graduated with just a year ago. Most of the people in my graduating class, including one of my good friends, are working part time and are pretty miserable in the states. I can't imagine it's any different for these graduates-- and it feels like it's only going to get worse. A degree doesn't seem to mean anything. So not only does it feel like you wasted years studying, but now all the banks have their hands out wanting the loans repaid already.

  • 0

    Yelnats

    There are cases (naturally) of male interviewees making fools of themselves trying to come on sexually to female recruiters

    Now that is silly. Sort of like Abbot and Costello. Guess they were more concerned about getting to third base rather then landing a job.

    What were they thinking?

    Besides that, many of these young smart people might want to look into starting their own businesses. Think out of the box and you can succeed. You do not need a degree to be successful.

  • 0

    stirfry

    ‘You people think we’ll hire you just because you’re from Todai?’”

    welcome to real life, todai twits

  • 0

    imomofo

    When I was 19, second year dicking around in uni, one day in a physics something lecture I stood up, left my textbooks and everything on the desk, walked out the lecture theater, jumped into my truck, went home, packed up my stuff and moved to the rockies and ski bummed for the next 3 years before starting to backpack around the world for the next 7 years. Now I'm running 2 businesses that net about 80 grand $ each, happily married with 3 kids and working about 10 hours a week if that. All my former classmates who graduated without a degree that's useful in the oil industry are sol and having trouble paying for their car loans, mortgages etc thanks to way the global economy is doing these days. Yeah, so school is only useful for learning something that you want to learn and study. It is NOT a foolproof method to score yourself a job or career. Sure that's the traditional way to go about if you want to be a professional like a lawyer, engineer or doctor, but come on, a pscy or fine arts deg is not going to really cut it in the real world. Might as well spend the money to get some first aid certificates, wood working classes or go surfing somewhere. I feel sorry for all theh parents who spent so much money and energy to put their kids through school hoping for a 'better' future for them. Remember school does not equal skills in the real world 99.9% of the time.

  • 0

    Yelnats

    Good for you imomofo

  • 0

    hanadecaka

    Government must cutoff unproductive aid in overseas country.That finance must utiized in domestic emplyoment.Especailly JICA.Dispatch the techno teachers to another country.A person can teach techonolgy at time 80 students.

  • 0

    kaminarikeizai

    Wow, techno teachers from Japan. Will they teach 100% techology to another coutry?

    JICA is hopeless. They know only how to waste Japanese money in overseas projects.

  • 0

    dolphingirl

    imomofo: Sweet! Wish I had done the same!

    As some people have already said, going to university and just studying some general arts sujects and then expecting to get a job is nuts. Especially here, what students study seems completely unrelated the job they want. I think universities have to better prepare students for the workforce and companies have to have better hiring practices. There definitley seems to be a gap between the expectations of graduates and recruiters.

  • 0

    5SpeedRacer5

    I have come to think it is all welfare. Banks, bureaucracy, large companies... it is all redundant. The old saw goes that 20% of the people do about 80% of the work, and that is about right. I have no doubt that the right 20% of people could take over and run the whole shebang tomorrow.

    Imomofo, badsey and others are the doers. They take the risk and make it happen. No time to impress people... they are too busy making things work. They have no trouble finding work or getting it.

    In contrast, what is a job interview if someone has nothing to offer? What is it but begging? The sheer number of people who emphasize "connections" underscores the fact that skills and talent are not required for most jobs. All that is necessary is need and conformity, ergo begging. Cocktail parties from Beverly Hills to Roppongi to Paris are peopled by very well dressed beggars. Admittedly, it is an odd perspective, but if you pay attention, you can hear them beg, offering vague promises for access to resources: "Will work for food. Please just tell me what you want me to do."

    Education has a proper role in life and has great value, but if all it does is make you a beggar in life, I would rather be a plumber.

  • 0

    usaexpat

    Gee you think? I would warn people to avoid college and student debt and pick up a trade they can apply when we start bartering for all good services again.

  • 0

    5SpeedRacer5

    Pick up a trade. You know expat, I think it is easier than that even. I don't want to sound all Frank Capra and all, but my attitude has always been that ANYTHING beats being unemployed, and that attitude has been sufficient for me.

    The expectation that "someone will give me a job" is poison. It creates a passive mindset that breeds sloth, dependence... Winners say "I want to work." Satisfaction with life: Nobody can give it to you. It has to be earned. How it is earned makes absolutely no difference at all. Flipping burgers might not be an intellectual or cultural thrill, but I have no doubt that a single "skill" like that could support a satisfying life. William Faulkner shovelled coal. Harry Truman sold suits.

    Saying that these kids from Todai have no idea of what life is about is stating the obvious, but it deserves an exclamation point because the answer is so easy. Unfortunately, some people can only handle true-false, and this test requires an essay.

  • 0

    WMD

    Gosh, isn't our capitalist system so wonderful?? A few people become mega rich but many are just thrown on the scrap heap. You can see why so many are moving into crime these days. Hacking and drug dealing are very profitable. Living conventionally just doesn't work anymore.

  • 0

    GenevaMan

    As much as I agree with the posters who stated that grads and diploma are not the key to get a good situation, but this is specially true for Japan. If you study accounting in Europe, then you will get accounting skills. I am amazed to see that in Japan, they are not taught anything at all, and are basically relying on this good-for-nothing background to be dispatched like soldiers in different companies, without any regards to their skills, capabilities and personality. I work with Japanese employees and most of them are not qualified for even lifting a pen, but they still have those high flown titles and take themselves really seriously. This model can't last any longer. If Japan pretends to be a capitalist country, then they need to change this "corporate" culture which is no different to a welfare system.

  • 0

    islands

    If the universities here taught these kids more hands-on skills (before they graduate) and to think and be more pro-active for themselves in life it would prepare them alot better for the real world.

  • 0

    Shaolin7

    If I were to be facetious, islands, I'd say they are being prepared for the real world. Who cares what measurable skills people actually bring, so long as they carry that special piece of paper from _______ prestigious university and / or get in via cronyism / nepotism / family connections? There are plenty of university grads in North America who are just as useless, are there not? Fast talkers are still able to grease and weasel their way in, regardless of location. I do feel for the new grads facing bleak prospects, Japanese or otherwise -- perhaps this will spur people to pursue what is really in their hearts, career wise!

  • 0

    Badsey

    Innovation starts in the home. Any 12yr old could become a programmer and make the next hot iPhone (or cellphone) app. =We must encourage the young when they show early interest since time is on their side, as you become older change can be more difficult.

    In life you must each find your own path and live your own life. It does help when you know how the game is played.

    Unemployment among the young is almost ~30% USA. -That is very high (artificial even!) = many sign up for the military + the fed is not raising interest rates = banks are having a difficult time and must call in loans + are not giving loans. JPmorgan and others get the loans at low rates and buy/loan overseas at much higher rates. Fed is printing up trillions and buying every hard asset it can. =these are difficult times and even I am having a hard time figuring out these people. =many will suffer.

  • 0

    blue_monday

    Maybe they should take Norman Tebbit's advice and get on their bikes and look for work, or like many of us did, get on a plane.

  • 0

    pathat

    It won't get any better in 2010.

  • 0

    Cliffy

    When I graduated from university (many many moons ago), I had sent out over 100 resumes and after a while finally landed a job. Switched to another job after a year. The second one was fun, I had to travel a lot in many places that you normally would not travel to. I can only say that university degree does help you to get in the door; however, as many have already know what you learned in university is pretty much useless in the real world. It only proves that you have the ability to learn. The company also expect that (at least when I interview people, I would not expect them to know what we do, but at least they have to know what they have been doing), company will re-train you to the post you are hired anyway. The only advantage from University educations is the method you gain from studying and projects.

  • 0

    Hirota56

    Pink Floyd -" We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control, no dark sarcarsm in the classroom, Hey teacher, leave us kids alone". Does Hey Teacher translate to "Hai, Sensei standing at attention???

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