This post is also available in: Japanese
Japan is more popular than ever amongst young Europeans, who have become familiar with it through anime and manga, or love of Japanese food. Yet “securing human resources” continues to be the key operational challenge for Japanese companies operating in Europe, according to JETRO’s annual survey.
Young people love the playful popular culture of Japan but they assume that this is not going to be the Japan they will experience if they join an engineering and manufacturing oriented Japanese company.
A more serious reason for not wanting to join a Japanese company is the lack of career development opportunities, when it looks like top management reserved for Japanese only. The larger Japanese companies have made efforts to overcome this by having European or global graduate recruitment and training programmes, often involving spending time in Japan.
I suspect it is the medium to small sized Japanese companies who are having the hardest time recruiting the people they need. Their European operations are still basically sales arms of the Japan headquarters. This means when they hire qualified engineers, they are disappointed that the job is more sales than engineering in content.
Japanese companies in Western Europe are most in need of management personnel but are facing already high labour costs. Japanese companies in Central and Eastern Europe are most in need of factory workers and cite the rapid growth of labour costs as their biggest operational challenge. Presumably they are having to compete with better known Western companies who are also facing a tight labour market. The obvious solution is to offer higher salaries, but that of course undermines the economic rationale of have manufacturing in Central and Eastern Europe.
Rather than engage in a price war for scarce management or technical staff, Japanese companies need to offer something different and attractive, which brings us back to the Japanese popular culture loved by young Europeans.
I was surprised recently that the European participants in my seminar who were 15+ year veterans of a Japanese technology company listed “the eccentric, child-like mindset” as one of the positives of working in a Japanese company. My 17-year-old son also noticed this on his first trip to Japan with me last month – and happily joined in by buying a Pokemon Piplup plushy and a Shiba dog pencil case which now have pride of place amongst his philosophy, maths and economics textbooks.
“Strengthening the company’s brand” was the top initiative selected for selling products and services in Europe in the JETRO survey. But this should be less about advertising to customers, and more about having an employee brand that appeals to young people. They will then be able to see a future for themselves where they make, design, manage or sell on behalf of a Japanese company, and have fun at the same time.
The original version of this article was published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News. Pernille Rudlin’s new book “Shinrai: Japanese Corporate Integrity in a Disintegrating Europe” is available as a paperback and Kindle ebook on Amazon.
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