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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4. Persisting problems since before the pandemic (Continued)
4.3 Simultaneous recruiting of new graduates
During the roundtable discussion, Participant J, who was looking for a job as a new graduate, shared her experience of feeling anxious about the difficulty of finding a foothold in the future if she missed the employment period for new graduates. Although it is an individual concern, it arises due to the unique nature of career development in Japan, especially in the job-hunting process, and can be said to be a concern that many new graduates have.
In Japan, companies generally conduct a recruitment test within a limited period of time (mainly conducted in springtime), recruit students who are about to graduate simultaneously and at once, and new graduates start work immediately after graduation. This system is commonly referred to as " Simultaneous recruiting of new graduates."
Historically, the Japanese employment environment has been characterized by lifetime employment, and the system of training in the company to prepare inexperienced and unskilled workers for their jobs has matured. From the perspective of investment in education and the payback period, it is a rational decision for companies to make the longest possible employment contracts with employees who can continue to work for as long as possible. New graduates will inevitably be the targets of such contracts.
When companies hire new graduates, they don't ask for much experience or skills, so students have the advantage of being able to join a large company because of the potential for future growth. It also allows companies to secure the best talent faster and reduces the time and cost of hiring. According to a survey by the Cabinet Office on hiring practices, companies use new graduate hiring for a number of reasons, such as "securing a certain number of new graduates on a regular basis" and "securing fresh personnel who are not familiar with the customs of other companies.”  It is clear that companies see this system as a benefit in terms of having a regular supply of easy to train people.
On the one hand, this system is often a source of concern for new graduate job hunters. They suffer from the pressure of not being able to fail because they will be out of the new graduate quota after graduation. They also have to apply to a large number of companies in a short period to obtain job offers in a limited amount of time, which can be physically and mentally difficult and affect their studies. According to a survey of new graduates conducted by a company that provides career support services to students, the top concern before job hunting is whether or not they will be able to find a job, and "overcrowded schedules" and "burden of entry sheets" are top concerns as the actual difficulties of job hunting . Another thing is that "job hunting expenses" is the top factor. According to the survey, job-hunting expenses for new graduates averaged 161,312 yen (Approx. $1,600) nationwide, with transportation and accommodation expenses being a particularly large burden. In addition, there is a difference of approximately 50,000 yen between the Kanto and regional averages. Combined with the problem of Tokyo's concentration of information, education, and job opportunities themselves being concentrated in urban areas, this creates a disparity among job hunters and places a greater burden on new graduates looking for work outside urban areas.
With companies now focusing their recruitment activities on new graduates, old graduates often face difficulty in finding jobs. According to a survey by MHLW, 43% of the establishments in all industries surveyed said that graduates were able to apply for full-time positions for new graduates’ quota over the past year, and 47% of those were hired. This survey shows that about half of the companies do not hire graduates, confirming the fact that employment opportunities are limited to old graduates.
While the "new graduate quota" is an opportunity for students, students may not have any criteria for deciding which companies to work for, and a mismatch with a company can lead to an early leaving from the job. According to MHLWs survey of Young People's Attitudes to Employment in the White Paper on Children and Youth, more than 30% of young people left their first job in less than three years, and 43.4% of young people cited "the job wasn't right for me" as the reason for leaving.
The internship is attracting a lot of attention as a way to prevent mismatches, but the Japanese internship system is positioned as a part of educational activities, not as a recruitment activity . Therefore, it is not used as an opportunity to gain sufficient work experience. According to a survey conducted by a major HR services company, the most common elements of internship programs are non-usual tasks, workplace visits, and the opportunity to accompany an employee. Besides, the majority of companies set the internship period at one day only. It is too short for one to understand the duties of the job. For this reason, the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren) is calling on the government to stop using the term "one-day internship" because it does not constitute work experiences, and to add provisions to the internship program as recruitment activities.
It is difficult to judge the merits or demerits of simultaneous and bulk-hiring of new graduates, as it can be both an opportunity and a concern for students. However, as the practices of lifetime employment and the seniority system that has characterized the Japanese labour market are breaking down, calls for a review of the new graduate hiring rules are increasing. Besides, COVID-19 has coincided with the spring job-hunting season, which has greatly hindered job-hunting activities, leading some to voice growing scepticism about a system that concentrates hiring at a specific time of year. Keidanren has announced the abolition of its guidelines for recruitment and selection of graduates from the fiscal year 2021, putting an end to the simultaneous hiring of new graduates. According to a survey of job-hunting students' opinions regarding the abolition of the guidelines, 60% of students agreed with the abolition of the guidelines, and more than 60% of students surveyed thought that they would prefer a combination of simultaneous hiring and year-round recruitment, or year-round recruitment only. It is clear that the students concerned are uncomfortable with the current recruitment system and want to see a change in the way they are employed.
There is no doubt that a new employment system is needed that takes into account students who do not want to miss out on the opportunity of being a "new graduate" and are troubled by it. For this reason, we need an environment and system that allows students to challenge job hunting more freely at various stages of their lives, without being limited to the time required to be a new graduate. Increasing the number of quotas for previous graduates, which are currently considered less favourable for employment than for new graduates, could be one way to ensure that job-hunting activities are not tied to the new graduate quota. Besides, decentralizing the recruitment schedule and adopting year-round hiring can reduce the burden on students. At present, only about 25% of companies employ new graduate throughout the year can expect to see more companies adopt year-round recruitment in the future. There is a concern that year-round recruitment will prolong the job-hunting process and increase the burden of job hunting costs, but companies, the government, and civic groups may be able to find ways to support this process to reduce the burden of students. Holding online job-hunting events, abolishing the requirement to wear a recruiting suit, and the operation of guesthouses for job hunters by government, municipalities, student groups, and civic organizations could be ways to reduce job-hunting costs. Furthermore, proactively hiring interns for jobs could be one way to prevent a mismatch, and at the same time, it could be a new recruitment method that replaces bulk hiring for new graduates.
It is not easy to switch to a different system right away because we are still in a transitional stage of discussing the pros and cons of simultaneous recruitment. However, a discussion that incorporates perspectives such as "what is the most desirable system for students" and "how can the burden be minimized" may lead to the adoption of a new recruitment system that further expands the potential of students' activities than the current bulk recruitment of new graduates.
4.4 Stereotypes in career development
4.4.1 Taking time out from work
One of the opinions shared at the roundtable on career perspectives was that certain stereotypes may be influencing career development. Certain stereotypes and assumptions are already considered good in career perspectives that influence or challenge various career choices. In this context, many roundtable participants shared their perceptions of blanks in employment (period of unemployment) in their job history. We were able to confirm that many people are concerned about the blanks that are created as they shape their careers and feel uneasy about not being part of an organization/ institution/ company.
This perception is likely to be influenced by the characteristics of the Japanese labour market. In Japan, a period of separation from work tends to be perceived negatively as an interruption of a career. It is generally considered a good idea to have a linear career, entering the company immediately after graduating from college and continuing to work until retirement without interruption. Therefore, in a practice that considers a career without any blank to be a good thing, returning to work or re-entering the workforce after leaving the company can be a disadvantage.
Regarding the most favourable separation period from work, a job search website advised it to be from 3 months to 6 months. It emphasizes that it is better not to have blanks as much as possible, as the blanks are detrimental to find jobs. In this way, the job market generally considers a non-disadvantageous blank period of about three months, and many people who change jobs move to their next job within a short period. According to MHLW's survey on people changing jobs, 29.4% of respondents said they had been out of work for less than one month, 24.6% said they had not been out of work for a while, and 12.5% said they had been out of work for more than one month but less than two months. This survey shows that more than half of the respondents are keeping their separation from work to three months or less. Workers are concerned that a prolonged period to be away from the workplace will disadvantage them when they return to work or re-enter the workforce. It causes workers to fear taking a timeout from their careers, as they are reluctant to take a leave of absence or leave their jobs, or hesitate about even taking an extended leave of absence.
This anxiety is especially crucial for women. Many have to leave their jobs due to marriage, childbirth, and childcare, and many of them are worried about returning to work or re-entering the workforce. A survey by a Japanese human resource service company on women with career gaps reveals that many women leave their jobs or take a leave of absence due to childcare and childbirth. In addition, a survey by the Cabinet Office indicates that the percentage of women who leave their jobs to have their first child is still high at 46.9%. As such, women often leave a job, especially for childbirth and childcare, but it is not easy to re-enter the job. A survey by MHLW on the re-employment situation of women who left their jobs to have or raise children shows that around 80% of them had concerns before finding a new job, and many of them were concerned about whether they could balance their work with childbirth or whether they could keep up with their work. In addition, many respondents cited "I can't find a job that meets my requirements" and "I get turned down if I don't have family support because I have small children" as difficulties in finding a new job.
Job selection criteria for re-entry into the workforce tends to focus on job content, job satisfaction, employment status, and salary level, while at the same time seeking flexible work arrangements and family considerations. However, jobs that require good judgment and responsibility often call for full-time or overtime work, and it takes a lot of work to get hired after considering the various requirements. During the roundtable discussion, participants shared that they felt that marriage and pregnancy reduced the range of companies they could apply to and that they felt disadvantaged in their job search. It is clear that the situation of career interruption, which is generally seen as a negative, has affected women more significantly.
Women and job changes are not the only ones who are concerned about the gap in their careers. Participant J, who participated in the roundtable, is concerned about the career gap if she failed to find a job as a new graduate, and Participant C shared her experience that her time in graduate school was viewed as "blank" during her job search. Worries about gaps or blanks exist at various stages of career development.
It will take a long time to change the way the labour market views the blanks. However, we can change the way the blanks are considered in the workplace. Especially, improvement to support women is possible. Companies that try to foster a corporate culture that views separation for childbirth and childcare as a positive, rather than a career disruption, are sometimes held up as good examples, but they need to be addressed by more companies. Besides, to allay workers' fears about blanks, HR evaluations should incorporate a balance of hours worked and performance evaluations to ensure that shortened work hours after a leave of absence or return to work are not reflected in an excessively negative. Also, it is important to meet the supervisor and human resources personnel before and after they leave and return to work to ensure that you can take a leave of absence without worry. However, the system should not be one that benefits only the employees taking leave, so it is important to create a culture and system that does not make all employees feel unfair.
As work styles and career development are more diverse following the increase of average life expectancy and the length of employment, considering the blanks negatively in job history can be a barrier for individuals and society to achieve diversity. It is relevant not to consider leaving a job to be an interruption of a career. Moreover, creating an environment that various experiences and challenges are encouraged is necessary.
4.4.2 Training as generalists
The question of whether to become a generalist or a specialist has a significant impact on one's view of work and career development. Participant F shared her thoughts on the general trends in the Japanese labour market regarding the issue of specialists and generalists. Japanese companies are looking for and developing generalists rather than specialists, and this tendency to place a premium on generalists can affect an individual's career choices as well.
In the past, Japanese companies have focused on "internal labour market-based human resource management", in which new graduates are hired as generalists and then internally trained and promoted through transfer and reassignment. And it can be said that this trend is still going on. According to a survey by the MHLW on "Human Resource Development in Response to Diversified Ways of Working," companies that place importance on generalist/internal human resource development accounted for 39.8% of all companies of all sizes and in all industries, making up the highest proportion. This is followed by 33.2% for companies emphasizing the development of specialists and internal personnel, 15.9% for companies emphasizing the hiring of specialists and external personnel, and 11.0% for companies emphasizing the hiring of generalists and external personnel.
A tendency for Japanese companies to place a high value on generalists can be glimpsed in the human resources development system known as "job rotation" (periodic personnel changes). According to a survey on corporate transfers conducted by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, 53.1% of companies responded that they had experienced job rotations, and when viewed by the size of full-time employees, the percentage was higher as the size of the company increased. With regard to the frequency of job rotation, 27.9% of companies responded that job rotations were for three years, followed by 18.8% for five years.
Job rotation, which allows employees to move around and gain experience in a variety of tasks, is an excellent way to develop generalists with a cross-sectional view of the company's business. This system is said to be beneficial for employees in charting their career path. By experiencing several different types of jobs, employees can understand their aptitudes, and it is easier for them to clarify their intentions and career development direction. Besides, by experiencing multiple departments and operations, you will be able to acquire multiple and highly applicable skills by gaining different perspectives.
On the other hand, transfers with ambiguous objectives can reduce the individual's freedom to build a career, as motivation to work is reduced and a high frequency of movement makes it more difficult to develop expertise. For example, the job listings for mid-career hires often say "3+ years of experience" and a couple of years for one field can be seen as insufficient experience. Participant F shared her friends' experience who had been working at a general trading company or a major manufacturer for five or six years and said, "They want to change jobs, but they have only acquired knowledge and skills that are not applicable outside the company." While job rotation is useful as a generalist development system, one of the disadvantages is that in the job market, employees are often considered as "in-house specialists" rather than generalists.
During the era of lifetime employment and the seniority system, many young people did not change jobs, but instead worked at a single company to improve their skills as a career-track employee and then became a generalist in a managerial position. However, with the end of lifetime employment, there is a growing tendency for those who are considering changing careers to believe that they need to acquire skills that can be used at other companies rather than a generalist career path. Also, with the evolution of digital technologies such as AI and data science, the demand for more advanced skills and abilities is increasing, and more and more young people are looking to acquire specialized knowledge. A survey of the attitudes of new employees conducted by the Japan Management Association showed that more than 60% of them want to become specialists, and this number is increasing every year. The survey also revealed that more young people want to work in a "merit-based and performance-oriented workplace where individuals are evaluated and treated regardless of age and experience," and that they are highly motivated to learn the skills and abilities necessary for their jobs. Additionally, nearly 90% of respondents believe that individuals are responsible for acquiring skills and abilities.
It's not just the workers' side that is experiencing changes in their views of the profession. With the growing importance of embedding innovations such as global economic activity and artificial intelligence as a competitive advantage, companies are pointing to possible changes in their human resource management policies as well. According to a survey by the MHLW, when asked whether they thought the importance of generalists or specialists would increase in the future, many of the companies that emphasize the development of generalists and internal human resources said the focus on generalists would continue. However, we found that a higher percentage of companies that emphasize innovation activities say that specialists are becoming more important. Necessary skills vary depending on the company's strategy. Still, it may be an indication of the need for a change in the way people are managed, which has traditionally been focused on training generalists.
Accordingly, companies need to focus not only on generalists but also specialists in their human resources management, through identifying the development of working attitude and the ideal human personnel. More young people are working to improve their skills and abilities because of the unstable employment caused by COVID-19. Also, it is increasingly important to provide solid support for their growth and development. Since the human resource management of a company has a significant impact on individuals' career development, it is necessary to support the advancement of employees by mutual communication to ensure that the company's policy and their career development goals are aligned. Further, it will be necessary to pay close attention to how training and development will be changed or maintained in line with changes in society, including the impact of COVID-19, and how it will affect the career development of individuals.
4.5 Lifelong Learning
With 100-year life, there is an increasing attention to lifelong learning including professional skills. Although the purposes of learning are diverse, according to the Basic Survey of Skills Development by MHLW in 2019, many people have undertaken self-education in order to acquire the knowledge necessary for their jobs. Future career advancement is also a reason for learning. According to the "White Paper on Children and Youth" by the Cabinet Office, 53.2% of the respondents, the highest percentage, answered that they would like to continue learning if conditions were right in order to find a better job.
Participants in the roundtable also expressed the hope that there will be more opportunities in the future to move back and forth between the labour market and learning opportunities. However, there are different challenges. For example, Participant S was concerned about time and money issues. In a job where people are working long hours, not only do they not have time to learn, but it may be difficult to spare time to think about learning in the first place. Also, the financial burden of learning can be too heavy.
These issues have been clarified in actual surveys. In the Basic Survey on Human Resource Development conducted by MHLW in 2019, the reasons given for problems in conducting self-education were "too busy" and "too much cost". The survey also exposed the issue of gender equality in work-life balance. Looking at the results of the survey for full-time employees only, the next most common response was "too busy with housework and childcare to have time for self-development". For women who are required to spend time doing unpaid work, this means that time is taken up not only at work but also at home. In addition, companies are not actively supporting their employees' self-improvement programs. According to the JILPT survey, 30% of the 2,809 companies surveyed implemented self-improvement programs as a benefit for full-time employees, while 30% of the companies thought that employees should make an effort to help themselves. Considering that self-improvement outside the company is often expensive, for example, the cost of taking certification exams, textbooks, and attending external seminars, financial support may also be effective in promoting self-improvement and learning among young workers.
For individuals to receive financial and time support from companies, it is important that what they learned through personal development is returned to contribute to the workplace. However, it is also necessary to prepare places and positions where they can return their learning to their companies. It is important that not only subjects that are directly related to the work, but also a wide range of learning are valued, and that the evaluation system and work environment reflect this so that individuals are motivated to engage in various fields. In this way, an effort to connect the improvement of workers' skills and the benefit of the company could create an environment that enables individuals to develop themselves.
Also, more efforts are necessary to increase places where people can obtain learning. For example, the "White Paper on Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology" by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology ("MEXT") in 2018 points out the lack of practical programs for working adults to study at universities and other institutions. To address this issue, the MEXT has established the Program for Fostering Practical Vocational Skills and is working to improve the environment for working people to learn. Recently, due to the effects of the pandemic, the edX, Coursera, JMOOC, Udemy and other services that provide free or low-cost access to courses from a variety of higher education institutions around the world are expanding their contents. In September 2020, the ILO also released a new e-learning program, "Multinational Company Declaration (Introduction)," in Japanese, to help workers learn about the Declaration of Multinational Enterprises to achieve responsible business practices. In this way, we need to expand the tools for learning and create an environment where it is easy for individuals to move between learning and working.
5. Closing remarks
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the way young people work, as noted by ILO's monitoring and a new report. However, as we heard the real voices of young people, it was highlighted that the problems that existed from the outset were more of groundwork, rather than a problem caused by the pandemic alone, and impacted the careers of young people. Through this round table project, we attempted to identify the effects of COVID-19 and to re-identify the initial problems in the careers of young people. Through this process, it is observable that young people in Japan tend to design their careers and lives and want the results of their choices to be accepted by society. Besides, more and more people recognize that harassment, long working hours, and other problems that have been ignored as "unavoidable" in the past, but are now recognized as a "problem."
Of course, the issues discussed in this article, such as working styles, harassment, simultaneous recruiting of new graduates, stereotypes about career development, and lifelong learning, are not limited to those discussed in Chapter 4. Although we have focused on young people in this paper, various issues related to the way we work exist across generations. It is not easy to improve these issues. Nevertheless, we hope that this project has provided some hints for a better future of work after the COVID-19 disaster. (The main points of the ideas I presented in Chapter 4 are summarized below.)
Thank you for reading!
 MHLW (2018), Labour Economic Trends Survey, p.11
According to the survey, 62% of the surveyed industries responded that they recruited new graduates as full-time employees during the past year (August 2017 to July 2018). In terms of the timing of recruitment, the largest percentage of the surveyed industries responded that they recruited in spring (69%), followed by "at any time of the year" (22%) and "in spring and autumn" (6%).
 Cabinet Office (2006) "Survey on Corporate Recruitment" https://warp.da.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/9990748/www5.cao.go.jp/seikatsu/whitepaper/h18/10_pdf/01_honpen /pdf/06ksha-servay.pdf
 Supporters (2019) "Job Hunting Reality Survey 2019
 Kanto average 127,664 yen, regional average 182,633 yen
MHLW (2018), Labour Economic Trends Survey, p.11 https://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/itiran/roudou/koyou/keizai/1808/dl/roudoukeizaidouko.pdf
MHLW (2018), "White Paper on Children and Young People, Special Report on Young People's Attitudes towards Employment and Other Issues", https://www8.cao.go.jp/youth/whitepaper/h30honpen/s0_0.html?_fsi=KGGGf9qO
 Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, "Basic Approach to Promoting Internships" https://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/koutou/sangaku2/1346604.htm
 Recruit Employment Mirai Institute (2019), Employment White Paper 2019, p.16 https://data.recruitcareer.co.jp/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/hakusyo2019_01-56_0507up.pdf
 Pasona Research Institute (2019), Student Awareness Survey on Job Hunting Activities and What Students Look for in Companies and Universities
 Recruit Employment Mirai Research Institute (2020) "Employment White Paper 2020
 For example, doda, "How many months of separation is allowed? (https://doda.jp/guide/5min/010.html), Career Change Good, "What's the average length of time away from work (blank) and does it affect hiring after 6 months? (http://jobgood.jp/8183), and Mynavi Agent, "Guidelines for the length of the job search and the key to early settlement" (https://mynavi-agent.jp/knowhow/period/).
MHLW (2015), "2015 Survey of Persons Changing Jobs,
 Cabinet Office (2018) 'Continuous Employment Rate of Women Before and After the Birth of the First Child' and 'Childbirth, Childcare and Women's Employment Status' http://wwwa.cao.go.jp/wlb/government/top/hyouka/k_45/pdf/s1.pdf
 Ibid, p. 35.
 MHLW (2018), "Analysis of the Labour Economy in 2018 - Human Resource Development in Response to Diversified Working Styles", p.109 https://www.mhlw.go.jp/wp/hakusyo/roudou/18/dl/18-1-2.pdf
 Ibid, p. 111.
 Labour Policy Research and Training Institute (2017), "Survey Series No. 174, 'Survey on the Actual Status of Corporate Transfers'," p. 7
 Japan Management Association (2019) "New Employee Opinion Survey Report
 MHLW (2018), "Analysis of the Labour Economy in 2018 - Human Resource Development in Response to Diversified Working Styles", p.109 https://www.mhlw.go.jp/wp/hakusyo/roudou/18/dl/18-1-2.pdf
 Ibid, p. 111.
 Recruit Management Solutions Institute for Organizational Behaviour 2030 Work Style Project (2013) "Opinion #6: "Individuals Shine in the Future" - Don't think too much, just keep challenging yourself. https://www.recruit-ms .co.uk/research/2030/opinion/detail6.html
 Self-education refers to activities that workers engage in to voluntarily develop and improve their vocational abilities in order to continue their vocational life (it does not include activities for hobbies, entertainment, sports and health promotion that are not related to their jobs). MHLW, "Basic Survey on Human Resource Development: Explanation of Terms" https://www.mhlw.go.jp/toukei/list/dl/104-23c.pdf
 Cabinet Office, "White Paper on Children and Young People, 2018 https://www8.cao.go.jp/youth/whitepaper/h30honpen/pdf_index.html
 MHLW (2020) "Human Resource Development Basic Survey
 Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (2020), "Survey Series No. 203 (Part I): A Survey of the Actual State of Benefits Policies in Companies" https://www.jil.go.jp/institute/research/2020/documents/203_01.pdf
 ILO (2020), "The Declaration of Multinational Enterprises (Introduction)" e-learning program: https://www.ilo.org/tokyo/information/pr/WCMS_754779/lang--ja/index.htm