With Japan facing a serious skills shortage, is foreign labour the answer, and are Japanese companies willing to reach out?
With Japan continuing to face skilled worker shortages, businesses are being encouraged to employ a variety of tactics to ensure their businesses have the talent they need for growth.
One tactic that businesses are using to address the shortage of talent is employing foreign labour, with 1.3 million non-Japanese workers currently employed in Japan.
According to Robert Alan Feldman, Senior Advisor, Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co., Ltd, foreign workers are being employed in Japan at an accelerated pace. Feldman explains: “In October 2017, the Standard Annual Survey found there was a net increase by 195,000 of the number of non-Japanese working in Japan. The previous year, the increase was by 176,000, and the year before that, 120,000. The increment has been increasing, and non-Japanese now total 2% of the workforce.”
But for some companies, the prospect of employing foreign workers can seem daunting. So what are the benefits of having foreign and local employees working under the same roof?
While some companies may be reticent to hire foreign labour on the basis that communication would be challenging, many companies find that it actually helps improve communication across the business.
Says Feldman: ‘People are discovering that having the foreigners around actually increases their ability to talk to each other. People have to think of new ways of communicating.”
Not only that, employees have the opportunity to improve their language skills. “Recently, non-Japanese people are picking up the language reasonable quickly. Also, it’s an opportunity for Japanese workers to improve their English. They’re speaking to people every day in English, and that is a very good thing for the company. The challenge becomes the benefit.”
An increase in creativity
Working in a diverse environment helps to foster creativity, and helps teams find unique ways of solving problems.
「Says Feldman: “Everybody gets a lot of stimulus from running into things they haven’t seen before. You learn tolerance for uncertainty, tolerance for different ideas, and different approaches.”
Nicholas Walters, Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, Metlife Insurance K.K, agrees. “In our business, we seek people who aren’t just bi-lingual, but who are bi-cultural. Someone who can think in business terms from a Japanese and Western perspective – that is, someone who has an understanding of the different mindsets, expectations and ways of thinking – can offer immense value to the business.”
Opportunities for new business
For businesses with growth plans in foreign markets, non-Japanese workers with international networks can bring significant value. “New connections with foreign countries leads to more potential work,” says Feldman.
A new sense of identity
Employing foreign labour doesn’t just do your business good, it helps promote a more open and connected society, says Feldman.
“Through working alongside other people from other countries, we get to understand that people don’t have a certain identity because they come from a certain country. Through working with people from different countries, we can each become a ‘multiple identity person’. When you have a multiple set of identities, it’s much easier to connect with people and be friends. This turns out to be extremely important in fostering peace and reducing violence.”
So how can businesses set themselves up for success, when employing foreign workers?
Set the message from the top
The leadership team must set the example for everyone to follow. Says Feldman: “The message from the top has to be, ‘We want these people. They’re our friends. They’re our colleagues. They’re our team. And we have to treat them as team members.’
Establish role models
Local employees need to be given opportunities to grow their career, so they don’t feel resentment if foreign workers are employed into positions of seniority.
Walters explains: ‘The old days of ‘us and them’ – that is, local staff vs expats – needs to change, and getting the balance right in the organisation is absolutely key. It’s really important to establish role models for your local team and promote from within so they can aspire to leadership.”
Hire foreign workers to address skills shortages
If employees see that the foreign workers are going to enhance their own productivity, they are more likely to embrace their new colleagues. Says Feldman, “You need to hire somebody who fills a role in the firm and everybody knows is necessary. The incumbent employees are thankful for somebody coming in regardless of what country they come from.”
Set clear salary benchmarks
“It’s important to pay people fairly, whether they be local or foreign,” says Feldman. “People need to know that they’re getting paid for what they do, not who they are.” For current salary benchmarks, see the latest version of Robert Half Salary Guide. The journey towards diversity can be a slow one, but with a few small steps, companies will reap the benefits