With the craziness and uncertainty of the past few months, it seems unlikely that much silver lining can be found in these gray (err… really gray) skies ahead of us. Many businesses are looking to let people go, credit is tough to get, purchases orders are requiring more signatures and checking, which slows down product sales and new project initiatives, yen is stronger against the dollar (hooray for my student loans!), which makes for bad export outlook, but good for overseas traveling locals. For those in recruitment, any hiring that does happen, must go through more hoops, extra sign-offs. Not much is moving it seems.
In the midst of this slowdown, car crash or whatever you want to call it, I see some service offerings that look set to make a solid score during the next 6 to 18 months: small to mid-sized language schools, certification courses and overseas study programs. I am speaking mostly about Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, but I am sure to a lesser degree, this applies elsewhere here in Japan.
Why do I feel this way?
The reason is twofold: From a customer perspective, if you have the time due to a layoff or inability to get a job, what the heck, why not ride out the waves while learning CAD, VBA, English & Chinese, or dropping off the map completely in another country where your currency is stronger and stretches a bit further than normal?
Others, having been given a severance package, will look into a new job, but need to get into a daily schedule again and may look to Japanese/English study or other certification courses to stay the boredom that sets in after the first two weeks of resting at home.
Trust me, having been a job agent (temp and perm) for a long time, telling a new employer 18 months from now that your company folded and you decided to learn web programming, English and Chinese overseas in Beijing is not going to look bad on a resume. This was not true a few years back when gaps where usually frowned upon by perspective employers as being “language study vacations.”
Also, it’s not a surprise to readers of this website that most locals here have big cash stores in their bank accounts, often live at home with their parents well into their 30s (basics like rent and food have been taken care of for the previous 10 years in some cases…) and as such, they usually save a lion’s share of their salaries every year.
With the world’s lowest birthrate and late marriage age where it is, many of these cash heavy metro-sexuals are free to worry about numero uno only. My contacts at Shogakukan and Diamond Publishing say self-help and improvement/study books are enjoying great sales for those who are choosing to DIY to a better skill set. Also, manuscripts from first time writers (lots of free time perhaps) are flooding their editor’s tables.
It seems people have the time and money for skilling up.
From a service provider perspective, you have an interesting influx of new possible clients, individuals and corporate company tie-ups (many local companies from products to services firms are forced to reach out to new markets in a panic, requiring language and other new skills, but no extra headcount, thus must train up their current staff), outplacement/retraining needs, high-caliber recent layoffs from finance firms who need visa support to stay in-country and are desperate to get any type of paying work (and out of the house!).
Small/mid-sized language firms can quickly adjust staffing levels, bring in some additional resources quickly (snatch up a native Chinese speaker with import/export experience to help them write up a Chinese lesson curriculum for a local trading company for example), completely overhaul or tweak curriculum to fit the niche needs of corporate clients and individual students alike, create intense “boot camps” in whatever language, on the fly, etc. These firms can arrange unique payment schedules and with lower overhead, snap up smaller, irregular contracts and with the abundance of extra resources in the market, go for the “shrimp vs whale” model.
Be positive, stay focused, look for opportunities and tie the features of your services to the benefits for prospective clients and together you will both be successful.
The writer is managing director of Smart Partners KK, a company that offers sales training, consulting, business strategy and financial planning advice.© Japan Today