Why your company might be left behind in the battle for talent

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By Julian Ryall for The Journal (ACCJ)

For anyone entering the Japanese labor market or making a mid-career switch, the news is overwhelmingly positive: jobs are there and companies are bending over backwards to get the most capable people on board before the competition snaps them up.

The flip side of this employment equation, inevitably, is that companies are under ever greater pressure to woo the brightest and the best.

It is here that employer branding—as opposed to consumer branding, which a company uses to attract new and keep existing business—comes into play. A positive and attractive image can make your company irresistible to new hires; the opposite will have them heading to your fiercest rival.

Japanese companies and multinationals operating in Japan find themselves shorthanded when it comes to bilingual mid-career professionals. To achieve their corporate goals, these companies need staff with sufficient specialized experience. But our globalized environment has added an additional factor that makes staffing even more difficult: strong language skills.

The shortage can be seen in almost every industry, but it is particularly noticeable in technology-related organizations. With the rapid integration of tech into almost every aspect of our society—and with the Fourth Industrial Revolution being a key part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to achieve a GDP of ¥600 trillion by 2020—it is no wonder that the need in this industry is so great.

The reason for the talent shortage in Japan, a recruitment specialist told The Journal, is a combination of culture and demographics.

The latter point is clear. A record-low birthrate, declining population, and the tendency of mothers not to return to the workforce after giving birth puts Japan in a difficult position. But the former—the cultural aspect—comes down to mindset.

Japanese employers tend to be conservative compared with those in the United States or Europe. It has traditionally been less common for workers to change jobs, and this stability—although positive for business in the past—has limited the flexibility needed to compete today.

That brings us to where we are now. Decades-low unemployment means there are fewer candidates to choose from, yet the number of vacancies continues to grow: 148 for every applicant is the figure quoted by experts. The situation is only going to get worse, they suggest, as Japanese companies look to take advantage of the new economic and employment opportunities promised by the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

At a critical time for Japan, CEOs and country managers are finding that a lack of qualified staff is holding back their ability to grow. In fact, many cite this recruitment problem as being the biggest obstacle they face. And since candidates know they have the upper hand in any negotiation, companies must work harder to stand out from the competition and bring in the best of a limited human resource.


Employers also say they are seeing that selectiveness among candidates when they hire.

“They are more choosy, as they know they have many more options and can weigh the benefits of each offer accordingly,” said James Miller, hotel manager of ANA InterContinental Tokyo.

“Potential recruits are asking more about immediate permanent status as opposed to being contractual for a probationary period,” he pointed out. “They are also inquiring about hours worked, as overtime has become a tremendous issue in Japan recently.”

It is a similar story in other sectors of the economy.

“We are typically hiring at mid-level, where potential recruits are asking more questions about the company’s image, its brands, and corporate culture,” said Lydia Dorman, senior vice president for human resources for Coca-Cola (Japan) Co., Ltd.

“In many cases, these recruits have worked for more than one company, thus they are focused on career advancement, especially the opportunity to work in another international market,” she said. “Many Japanese desire—and thrive—in a hybrid environment that combines a Japanese and international style of working.”

Applicants to All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. (ANA), “prioritize internal company rewards, such as challenging opportunities, self-development, and making a contribution to mankind and society over factors such as remuneration and welfare programs,” said Naheel Dajany, manager of corporate communications for ANA.

So, if those are what potential employees are looking for in their careers, how do corporations promote and sustain their brands?

“In addition to our ‘Inspiration of Japan’ brand, we share with the candidates our mission statement, management vision, and our values, as we believe it is important to make them aware of why ANA exists, what ANA is aiming to achieve, and ANA’s core values,” Dajany said.

“We consider our millennial customers to be our potential future employees. Therefore, it is very important that they experience the exemplary customer service of ANA and become a fan when they are young. No one would want to work for a company that does not deliver the service expected of it.”

Coca-Cola, equally, is keen to get across the opportunities that exist with the firm, both professionally and personally.

“Like our trademark Coca-Cola brand slogan, ‘Taste the Feeling,’ we promote to recruits the opportunity to ‘taste’ the great working life they can have at one of the world’s most recognizable companies,” said Dorman.

“We acknowledge that we do work hard but, in return, recruits have an opportunity to grow an international career, experience the best of a blended international and Japanese working style, and accelerate personal development, with an emphasis on emerging and female leaders.

“We also work hard to improve the personal well-being of our associates, to build collaborative and productive working relationships, and to empower everyone to participate in our growth agenda—all within a great physical office space. We also ensure that our employees are technically equipped to work remotely or to take advantage of flexible work hours.

“Or, more simply put: We are looking for extraordinary people who want to delight our consumers, customers, and stakeholders with exceptional brands that propel Japan to continuously be an engine for growth of the Coca–Cola Company.”

InterContinental Hotels Group PLC—the largest international hotel company in Japan with 40 properties across the country, including the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands—does not offer “jobs,” said Miller. “We offer careers with a lifestyle congruent with that of our corporate belief that our colleagues are our single greatest asset.”

Initially, the company communicates its brand to potential employees through social media and the corporate human resources page.

“We have targeted print collateral [to communicate our brand] as we find this very effective in the Japanese market, where it might not be as effective elsewhere,” he added. “We also find that the most powerful way to get our brand across is through word of mouth from our existing colleagues, and we have a program in place that offers an incentive to those colleagues who recommend someone that we later hire.”

Equal opportunities, growth opportunities, a luxury product, ongoing training, and key development schemes—such as our ICON and Future Leaders programs, which put candidates on the fast track to becoming a general manager—are all particularly attractive incentives to anyone looking at the hotel industry as a career move, he added.

Miller admits that a failure to take on the best people because a company’s brand has not been adequately communicated could have a serious impact.

“If we cannot attract top talent, then our brand equity will suffer.”

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While most companies have grasped the need to get that message across, there may be some that are still not optimizing their position in the market.

Research carried out by recruitment consultants Robert Walters Japan KK, for example, shows that 88 percent of job seekers solicit advice from friends and colleagues about their experiences during the recruitment process—whether the experience is good or bad—said David Swan, director of the company’s operations in Japan.

“As a result, a job seeker’s overall experience when applying for jobs can have a significant impact on the perception of an employer in the marketplace and, beyond that, have a major effect on its brand,” he emphasized.

“With good candidates usually receiving two or more job offers, delays throughout the recruitment process can cause candidates to assume an organization is disinterested in them, or is not fully committed to hiring for the role. Making decisions quickly and decisively throughout the process is crucial.”

In addition, employers should ensure that all staff members involved in the interview process are trained on specific techniques, so that they deliver a consistent and positive message about the organization, Swan said.

Lanis Yarzab, vice president for Asia–Pacific operations at Pontoon Solutions, which specializes in outsourced workforce solutions, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), and managed services provider (MSP) solutions, points out that the talent shortage is worsening in Asia, exacerbated by technology shifts, automation, and demographics.

“Across Asia, the most common inquiries are about career progression, training opportunities, strategic direction of the company—to assess stability—flexible work styles, and social projects that the company sponsors,” she said.

“The best ways to build on the existing brand are to showcase how different target groups have added value in their role and built a career in the organization,” he said. “Messaging channels might include a dedicated Facebook page or Twitter feed, or a YouTube channel regularly showing events and happenings in the company.

“Recruitment today is about processes, technology, and people who represent your brand and messages on your behalf,” Yarzab added. “Passive job seekers need time to learn about your brand, so your campaigns and channels need to provide that consistent image over time.”

Custom Media publishes The Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© The Journal (ACCJ)

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

1 Comment
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As a recruiter, I agree with the overall message with this article.

However, there are some major flaws:

"148 for every applicant is the figure quoted by experts" - no, not at all. it is 1.48.

The working population of Japan is 76,129,000. By their misprint, that would mean there are 11,267,092,000 jobs... no. Clearly not.

Secondly, the claim that it is a "buyers market" is incredibly misleading. It is a sellers market. In Japan, despite financial crisis, earthquakes, etc. it has always been a sellers market. Seller means, the person (candidate) has the options. The companies, who don't understand market trends, will lose candidates as they have unrealistic expectations.

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