Living in Japan
Wall Street Associates

Wall Street Associates

Added In: Living in Japan › Business

Ken Matheson

Having recently returned to Nagoya after an 8-year absence, I have developed the impression that the economy is doing fairly well (except, perhaps, in the language school market!). Nagoya towers, Midland Square, major new outlet shopping centers and busy Saturday nights in the bars of Nishiki (so I am told), all point to a reasonable amount of money floating around. This impression was confirmed when I talked to Ms. Maki Mizuhara, Director of the Nagoya Office of Wall Street Associates, a leading HR company in the Chubu region.

Nick Johnston, who had previously worked in National Westminster bank in London, established Wall Street Associates in Tokyo in 1999. Initially focusing on recruiting local and international staff for foreign banks in Japan, as the squeeze started to set in with the declining workforce they soon expanded to servicing commercial companies. Now with offices in Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama and Nagoya, Wall Street Associates are in a good position to give an overview of the employment drivers across central Japan.

“Currently in the Aichi region, it is definitely a sellers market,” states Ms. Mizuhara. “For every job seeker there are 2 jobs, but at the higher levels of the market, the engineers, trained professionals and experienced managers, it is more like 6 jobs for every job seeker. What we call MPAs (Most Placeable Applicants) in these areas can pick and choose.” And while Japanese employees may be preferred, Ms. Mizuhara confirmed that the “glass ceiling” for foreign employees is more like saran rappu. “As long as the foreign employee has some basic Japanese, and show a commitment to improving their language skills, many Japanese companies have an insatiable appetite for their technical know-how, experience and global perspective.”

On the flip side, the lack of communicative English language ability is limiting many Japanese applicants. “Most companies require some English language ability, but these days they are moving away from formal assessments (TOEIC, eiken etc.), and towards actual communication ability. A big part of our role is to assess that spoken communication ability. In industries that typically attract male applicants (engineering, IT etc.), English is essential in higher-level positions. But what we see is that Japanese males tend to have a lower spoken English level than females. Due to the twin pressures of few female applicants and English language requirements, many companies now advertise not for a certain level of English but ‘Does not have an allergy to English’ or  ‘Does not mind being in an English speaking environment’, as a first step to securing the right staff, with the idea of developing their English skills in-house.”

Speaking of glass ceilings and gender differences, I asked Ms. Mizuhara about changes in the attitude towards recruiting females to management. “In general, no change. As this part of Japan is heavily dominated by monozukuri (manufacturing) industries, women don’t tend to be interested in these positions for starters (although there are always exceptions). However, in service industry management and in high-level sales positions, we are starting to see a lot more women. What we are also seeing is that the larger companies are adapting their employment practices in order to retain existing female employees longer. Gone are the days when a woman was expected to resign as soon as she married; these days companies are offering extended maternity leave (up to 10 years, unpaid of course), and flexible working hours to cater for child minding. We don’t yet have many company crèches, subsidized child care or paternity leave, but I think this part of the employment matrix will develop rapidly in the coming years.”

And what of the traditional grey suited sarariman? Well, here big changes are afoot as well. Many of those born in the late 50s and 60s have risen to section or department chief type roles. Traditionally this was where they stayed until retirement. But this generation seems to be more aware of their options, and is becoming increasingly mobile. They have accumulated a depth of knowledge, skills and, most importantly, an extensive business network. It is not unusual for Wall Street Associates to place an applicant making his first job change in 30 years!

Big moves in the region in the coming year? The ongoing expansion of the monozukuri industries guarantees demand for engineers, QA and CRM roles. At the same time new businesses are finding the Chubu region an attractive place to set up. The international furniture brand IKEA is launching its Japan-wide distribution center in Yatomi, Aichi prefecture in mid-2008. On behalf of IKEA, Wall Street Associates are currently recruiting for multiple positions in all areas of distribution, customs, QA and warehouse operations. Got Japanese and English language skills, and a background in any of these areas? Drop on in to Wall Street Associates and see if your next career move is to a global brand.

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