Inspired by the ILO survey on the impact on young people, this paper reports the findings from three roundtable discussions with a total of eight former/current ILO Tokyo Office interns (20s-30s) conducted in June 2020. Listening to the real voices of each individual, this paper identifies the impacts of the pandemic experienced by ILO interns as well as the elements influencing young people's careers even before the outbreak in Japan. Besides, some ideas are noted to overcome the existing issues with a hope to suggest what “the future of work” might be from young people’s perspective.
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3. The impact of the pandemic faced by ILO interns
So far, we have outlined the impact of the outbreak on young people presented in the ILO report.
While the ILO's research has revealed the challenges facing young people around the world, we wanted to further breakdown "young people" and find out more about individual circumstances and feelings of young people in terms of their careers.
To this end, we held three roundtable discussions with eight former/current ILO interns to share the situations that each individual was facing during this crisis and exchange their views on their careers.
3.1 Introduction of the participants of the roundtable
Graduate school student specializing in international human rights law. After graduating from university, she continued her research at a graduate school to become a researcher. As a foreigner who was born and raised in Japan, she is interested in the problems of foreigners in Japan. She plans to study abroad this year.
Graduate school student specializing in human security. She was born in South Korea but spent her childhood in Japan. Influenced by her father, a missionary, she has been interested in international cooperation since she was a child. She plans to start working at a consulting company next year.
After graduating from university, she obtained her master's degree in development education and global learning from a graduate school in the UK. She then worked for a company that dealt with human resource development/executive coaching and is currently studying labor issues as an ILO intern. This year, she plans to join her partner in South America.
Practitioner of international cooperation. After graduating from university, he worked in the private sector. He then spent two years in Madagascar as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer and obtained a master's degree in international development at a graduate school in the UK. After returning to Japan, he worked as an intern at the ILO and is currently working in Côte d'Ivoire as a fixed-term employee. He is in charge of projects related to cooperation between the primary industries and the private sectors and is responsible for monitoring and supervising projects.
After graduating from university and working for a while, she went to a graduate school in the UK to obtain her master's degree. Returning to Japan, she has been looking for a job at companies or organizations that provide support to migrant workers, which is her area of expertise. On the other hand, she is also engaged in a part-time job related to international development.
Graduate students specialized in the reproduction of disparity, poverty, and inequality in Morocco, with a particular focus on the educational arena.
Working for a financial institution. After graduating from law school, she entered a public policy graduate school to study labour policy, labour law, and quantitative analysis of policy. She is currently working at a financial institution and is attracted to the fact that she can do finance-related work with a broad perspective. She is in the middle of an online rookie training program.
Attorney. Loves labour law, and while studying violations of the duty of collective bargaining at graduate school, she also works as an attorney at a law firm being in charge of cases related to the new coronavirus and handles other financial matters such as stocks and mergers and acquisitions. Realizing the importance of being outspoken, she communicates actively through SNS.
The ILO report clearly shows that the COVID-19 has had a huge impact on labour market for young people around the world. Employment problems are more severe than ever before: 6.9% of young people aged 18-29 have already lost their jobs, 10.5% are employed but have worked zero hours. A total of 17.4% are out of work, which means that one in six people are not able to work. Nearly half (54.0%) of young people lost their jobs after the pandemic because of either the closure of the company they were working for or being laid off.
One of the participants in the roundtable discussion also had this problem. After completing her internship at the ILO, participant C originally contracted to work for two months as an outsourced assistant, but it has changed to a monthly contract due to the pandemic. She has difficulty in looking for a new job because of the pandemic.
Participant T is working in Côte d'Ivoire as an international cooperation practitioner in charge of a project on cooperation between the primary industries and the private sectors as a fixed-term employee. According to his contract, he was supposed to stay in Côte d'Ivoire until December 2021, but due to the pandemic, he had to return to Japan temporarily. Since he cannot go to the project site and does not know when he could return to Côte d'Ivoire, his plans and salary have been greatly affected.
Participant K, a graduate student, had to cancel a field study she had planned for her research for this summer. Since field research is an essential part of her research, she will have to make changes to her plans for the next few years.
While the impact of the pandemic has not emerged as an immediate employment problem, it has created a situation that could affect future employment. As the ILO report warns, many young people, especially those in the transition from education to work, are exposed to labour market risks on an unprecedented scale. We could observe this risk turning into reality from each situation of ILO interns.
3.3 Reduction in working hours and income
Along with the issue of employment, one particularly salient problem is the decrease in working hours and earnings. According to the report, 37% of young people in employment saw a reduction in working hours, while 78% of those who had a decrease in working hours saw a cut in wages by 42%.
During the roundtable discussion, not only Participant C, who had her contract period reduced, but also Participant T, who had to return to Japan temporarily, also spoke about the impact of the pandemic on their salaries. He got a local allowance in Côte d'Ivoire, but he cannot receive it while in Japan. Hence, his salary was severely cut. It has been a great problem for him, as he has to repay the scholarship.
Participant J had worked part-time to pay for her living expenses, especially her monthly rent while doing research. However, the company she worked for closed down temporarily, and she lost her part-time income for a few months. As she still has to pay the rent, she has managed to make ends meet by using up her savings.
As the report points out, young people who receive an education while working are concerned that they may not be able to finish their studies, and that the work experience and income they have lost may be difficult to make up for. Several participants in the roundtables also mentioned such risk and anxiety.
3.4 Increase in working hours
The negative effects of COVID-19 are not only seen in a decrease in working hours but also an increase. In the ILO report, 17% of the young workers had an increase in working hours per day from 7.3 to 10.3. Of this group, two-thirds (67%) reported working more than 10 hours a day. The report notes that 30 % of the young workers reported a decrease in earnings after the onset of the pandemic, suggesting that they may be working longer hours to compensate for the decrease in income.
Some participants from the roundtable pointed out that teleworking has caused longer working hours. Participant F said she sometimes works too long, and that it is difficult to separate the teleworking time from her private time. There are some researchers indicate that one of the downsides of telework is that they tend to work longer hours. The fact that young workers work longer than before suggests that it can be more difficult to disconnect from work along with an increase in teleworking.
According to the report, gender differences in employment, income decline, and self-rated productivity are primarily caused by occupational differences between young men and women and other socio-economic factors. The study reflects the situation of young men and women with higher education. While young men are affected by unemployment, fewer working hours, and lower earnings, young women tend to have lower self-rated productivity. Comparing young men and women of the same age along with employment status (public/private) and major occupational groups (ISCP-08), the gender difference decreased by one-third (37%) for declining earnings, one-half (53%) for less working hours, and almost non-existent (98%) for unemployment. On the other hand, a significant gender difference (9%) was shown only with self-rated productivity. The result may be influenced by factors other than work, such as increased domestic and care work. The results of the Labour Force Survey show that the labour market prospects of young women have been severely affected by this crisis, and studies of previous economic crises show that the impact of the economic downturn varies between men and women. Therefore, further research is needed to understand the gender impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
The gender differences in the impact of the pandemic did not come up in the roundtable discussion, as there was only one male participant in the discussion. However, the worries on the women's side, which they have had since before this disaster, have not been resolved yet. We will look at this topic in the next post.
Under the pandemic, nearly three-quarters (72%) of young workers reported working partially or fully from home. Young people in managerial (82%), professional (77%), and technical (78%) occupations were more likely to telecommute than those in clerical, sales, and other occupations (54%), and young people working in the private sector (68%) were less likely to telecommute than those in the public sector (77%). Younger women (75%) reported working from home than young men (68%) .
Roundtable participants also indicated that they had partially or fully adopted teleworking due to the outbreak. An attorney O had worked remotely since February, and when the declaration of state emergency was lifted (May 25, 2020), she started to spend two days a week working at the office. She said that she continues to work a combination of office working in core time (going to the office at 10 am and going home before 4-5 pm) and working from home. She was positive about working from home, saying that one of the best findings during the pandemic was to realize that her work could be done at home. On the other hand, Participant S, who works at a financial institution since April 2020, said that she currently conducts all of her new employee training online and is concerned about whether she can adapt to the changes that will occur when she has to go to the office.
Also, the current interns have been fully telecommuting since March. Participant N and F had worked in the office for the first month, then moved to telework. Participant J started her internship completely online from the beginning. She had to pay extra attention to staff members who she had not seen before, while there was no opportunity to meet new people which she could have gotten from a normal internship. Participant N said that she was confused by the change of working style in the beginning. On the other hand, Participant F emphasized the importance of close online communication with colleagues as her supervisor helped her a lot through frequent video callings.
While starting a new job fully online seemed to be challenging, those who had started their job before the pandemic tend to find positive aspects of teleworking.
3.7 Education and Training
The report revealed that career prospects are fraught with uncertainty (40%) and fear (14%) as young people predict difficulty in completing education and training. This is linked to the closure of schools and places to learn, which is depriving young people of social contact.
Participant N had also planned to study abroad this fall, however, all of her classes for the year were switched to online due to the travel restrictions. Although educational opportunities have been secured, as she plans to work in the destination country, the pandemic made her concerned about her future career.
Even amid the new coronavirus crisis and school closures, nearly half of young people are taking advantage of new learning opportunities. 44% of those surveyed, including 53% of young people who have completed higher education, began their studies at the beginning of the pandemic. While many young people are taking courses related to specific occupations or to improve their technical skills (54%), they also indicate a range of interest in learning (foreign languages, ICT, communication skills, problem-solving, and teamwork).
Participant O had planned to study abroad but had to change her plans due to the pandemic. She is currently motivated to look for other ways to improve her skills as she considers studying abroad as one of her options.
By looking at quantitative data presented in the ILO report and the real voices of eight former interns from the ILO Tokyo Office, we have been able to observe the specific situations faced by young people affected by the pandemic. The problems and changes that the roundtable participants are experiencing with this outbreak overlapped in many ways with those outlined in the ILO's report such as employment problems, reduced income, increased working hours, concerns about future careers derived from gender issues, telecommuting, and educational opportunities. In this regard, the impact of the new coronavirus pandemic on young people as presented in the ILO report was shared to some extent by the ILO interns. At the same time, we found that there were various personal circumstances behind the situation, as well as diverse ways of perceiving the situation itself.
 ILO (2020) "Youth&COVID-19: Impacts on Jobs, Education, Rights and Mental Well-being", https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_753026.pdf, p.13
 Ibid, p. 18.
 Ibid, p. 19.
 According to the "Survey on Diverse Working Styles (Telework)" published by the Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs in March 2019, the top disadvantage felt by those who have teleworked at home is that they tend to work long hours. https://www.hataraku.metro. tokyo.lg.jp/hatarakikata/telework/30_telework_tyousa.pdf
 supra note 5, p.19
 ILO (2020) "Preventing exclusion from the labour market: Tackling the COVID-19 youth employment crisis" https://www.ilo.org/emppolicy/pubs/WCMS_746031/lang--en/index.htm
 Rubery, J. and Rafferty, A. (2013) "Women and recession revisited. Work, employment and society", 27(3), pp.414-432.
 supra note 5, p.20
 This 30% gender difference is due to the fact that men in our sample are more likely to work in the private sector (where the telecommuting environment is less well-developed than in the public sector) than women.
 supra note 5, p.26
Next article is about persisting problems in youth-employment in Japan since before the pandemic↓