From the new academic year that just commenced from April, English has become a compulsory subject in Japanese primary schools. Certain Japanese corporations, including the parent companies of Rakuten and Uniqlo, are planning to ban use of Japanese from the workplace in favor of English.
Does this, ask Nikkan Gendai (Apr 27), suggest that middle-aged salarymen with little or no ability at English are on the verge of becoming "dinosaurs," with no recourse but to sit and wait for their inevitable extinction?
Not by any means. When Recruit Agent, a major job relocation firm, surveyed individuals who had succeeded in landing new positions during the period from May-October 2010, it found that 46.3% described their English ability as "mattaku-nai" (nonexistent). The second largest segment, at 30.1%, belonged to the bottom rung of scores on the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), averaging between 450 to 599 points. In third place in English scores, with 14.7%, were those in the next higher TOEIC tier (600 to 799 points). Those with scores of 800 or above accounted for only 8.8% of the total landing new jobs.
The respondents to the Recruit Agency survey said they'd applied to an average of 24 companies. As opposed to 46% of firms that did not place any requirement on their English ability, the candidates were dissuaded from applying at 36.7% of firms that expected applicants to know English.
These survey results came as a relief to some, who had been on the receiving end of persistent warnings by economists and academics to the effect that "If you want to survive in today's job market, English will be an absolute must," or "Unless Japanese companies make English their official language for internal use, they'll be at a disadvantage in the global competition for human resources."
"Before the survey, we presumed that more companies were making knowledge of English a prerequisite for applicants, but these results were unexpected," says Recruit Agency's spokesperson Yuriko Tsurumaki. "While there were some businesses that required high levels of English, such as in medical-related and financial fields, many more companies were seeking to hire human resources who had practical experience in various fields."
"A lot of people have been pitching for English instruction in the primary schools, saying 'English, English, English,' like it was some kind of magic incantation," grumbles author Kaori Natsume. "But I think it's being a bit extreme to suggest that this indicates Japanese corporations are losing their presence because they don't utilize English. More likely, the decline may be due to recent factors like Japanese firms not being able to supply robots for dealing with the Fukushima reactor accident. Several years ago, a group affiliated with METI produced a humanoid robot in the shape of an attractive female. All she could do was dance and sing."
Nikkan Gendai adds that staffing a company with English speakers won't necessarily benefit the organization. For one thing, making English the official language tends to discourage oral communications between staffers.
"Our office is already full of IT nerds who don't talk much to begin with. Tell them from now they've got to speak English, and they're not going to say anything at all," a male staffer in his 30s at an IT company says.
For those seeking to change jobs in mid-career, the most desirable attribute appears to be flexibility.
"That said, other abilities being more or less equal, the person who can respond in English during a job interview will be at an advantage," says the aforementioned Tsurumaki.
What it comes down to, concludes Nikkan Gendai a bit cynically, is that if you don't have much in the way of marketable job skills, you might as well try to pick up some English as well.© Japan Today