At the Chiba shipyard of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co. facing Tokyo Bay, there is an office building with a sign reading ''Center for Handing Down Technology,'' and on its door, there is a poster with the faces of 28 older workers wearing helmets. They are veteran engineers, called ''skill masters,'' who are in charge of fostering young engineers. About 300 engineers at the shipyard, accounting for 49 percent of the total, are aged between 51 and 60. During the shipbuilding recession in the mid-1970s through the 1980s, shipbuilding companies refrained from recruiting new engineers with a resultant shortage of mid-level engineers responsible for the next generation.
The center, set up in January last year, has been producing steady results and is said to be popular even among young engineers. Skill masters Mitsuo Kato, 59, a section chief, and Eijiro Furukawa, 57, an assistant section chief, both have experience of giving technical guidance in South Korea and China. Kato said, ''The Japanese are trying to own skills jointly and mutually and to make things better, but the South Koreans and Chinese are reluctant to share skills they have acquired with others. The Japanese way to hand down their skills to future generations is the way to go. Mass retirements from the company peaked in the period from 2000 to 2004 with about 1,000 employees reaching the compulsory retirement age, but the company managed to tide over the difficulty by introducing a ''meister system'' in which veteran engineers hand down their skills to the next generation.© Japan Today