Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Roger Agustin

Musings Of A Sarariman

I am starting a new column in this issue to give you peek about a ‘sarariman’s’ world. Although I am not sure if I could consider myself a full pledged “sarariman” (Japanese pronounciation for salaryman, a salaried employee), I hope to be able to share some of my experiences working in Japan with Japanese salarymen.

Job Hunting Woes

April 1st, that’s the start of the Japanese fiscal year where all new hires are sworn in to their new jobs. It used to be the day where all news would show a company auditorium or even large halls full of young men and women dressed formally in suits pledging their loyalty to the company, to follow the company’s ideals and to become good full pledged members of the working society.

For the last decade or so of economic downturn and a series of financial shocks, landing a job has never been easy for new graduates. Gone are the golden days of lavish entertainment of companies to would be recruits, luring them to sign up for employment as soon as possible. I consider myself one of the lucky generation when it comes to finding a job. I graduated in the early nineties which was when the bubble economy was about to blow up and just everything was at their highs – hiring, production, consumption, everything.

Nowadays, 就活Shukatsu (an abbreviation for 就職活動 Shushoku Katsudo) which means job hunting has become a painful process for all students who are expected to work after finishing school. It used to be that students get to choose the companies they want to work for and received a royal treatment when they went for interviews, free lunch (and at times lavish dinners) with transportation and accommodation expenses all paid for. During my time, we could wait until the last minute to choose a company because they were the ones desperate to hire as many as they could, compared to now where students would have to start looking very early in their junior years. Nowadays, it is the exact opposite, the hiring companies get to choose who they interview without any guarantee of a job offer. Before, all it took was a pre-formatted resume to get to an interview session. Now, students would have to fill an “Entry Sheet” first to get a prospective employer’s attention and get a chance to be called in for a company visit. If they are lucky enough to be invited for a company visit, they are then put on a group discussion along with other aspirants and then evaluated. If they happen to be short listed for an interview, there is still no guarantee for a job offer. Some companies would even suggest to job applicants to do some more rounds and visit more companies. At the minimum, a student would have to visit around 30 companies to land a job, 50 companies the average. Students are spending an average of up to 500k yen on expenses for Shukatsu! This was unimaginable in my time 20 years ago because companies would just hire anybody regardless of their skills or major. I remember one of the engineers I met in my former company whose major was English Literature and she was hired to do engineering design! Now, even a 4 year degree is not a guarantee so that when I attended a university graduation and entrance ceremony, it was pretty clear that more than 90% of 4-year course graduates were continuing on to the Master’s program! So it seems like there is no choice for graduates but to stay back in school not because they want to study further but because that’s the only way not to be idle and be more sellable to prospective companies. I sometimes think it is a good thing in the sense that students really are forced to study and hone their skills, both academic and social which benefits companies because they do not have to invest heavily in re-educating and training new hires for skills they want. It could also be a bad thing at the same time because the uncertainty of landing a job puts the student out of focus from their studies as they spend more time researching and traveling for company visits and interviews. I remember attending a university’s parent-teacher discussion session, the Student Affairs was advising that students would have to obtain as much units as they can within 2 years because they would be spending more time for Shukatsu in their 3rd and 4th years…

Times have changed really… the age of lifetime employment is long gone, even the concept of full loyalty to a company. Landing a job and even maintaining your current job has become a survival of the fittest indeed.

To all new recruits, omedetou and ganbatte kudasai. To all who are in still in school, ganbatte kudasai as well and my hopes that the improving economic situation will help alleviate the Shukatsu conditions in the nearest future. 

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