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.