The Japan Vocational Ability Development Association(JVADA) has established a Research Committee to study the transfer of high-level skills to the next generation. Headed by Prof. Shigeru Tsuji (Tokyo Institute of Technology), the committee has been funded by the Ministry of Labour to conduct a survey of firms concerning highly-skilled workers. The survey was administered in May 1996 to 19,792 manufacturing firms which employed four or more employees. Of the 2,177 establishments which responded to the survey, 34 percent felt they had a sufficient number of highly-skilled employees. Over 60 percent predicted they would face a shortage of highly-skilled labor in the foreseeable future. The survey classified highly-skilled workers into two types: "super-skilled workers" and "supra-skilled workers." The first category was for those who possessed "an extremely high level of skill and could not be replaced by a machine" and those who possessed the "skill to make products with equal or better precision and quality than a machine could do." The second category was defined to include "those who had the broad range of skills necessary to meet the wide-ranging need in manufacturing for flexibility and to contribute to technological development."
The survey showed that nearly 90 percent of the respondent firms required highly-skilled labor. Demand was especially strong among firms involved in small batch production with multiple products, in manufacturing prototypes, in product planning, and in production planning method and skills development. Highly-skilled workers accounted for five percent of all employees at the 2,177 firms which answered the survey. The average age for "super-skilled workers" was 45.5. It was 39.8 for "supra-skilled workers." The survey revealed that on average 16 years were required to acquire these kinds of advanced skills. Another finding was that 24 percent of the firms replied that their younger workers were not acquiring the same skills as previous generations. Three quarters of those having difficulty in this regard (about 18 percent of the sampled firms) reported that the situation had grown out of the difficulties they were having in recuiting or hiring talented people."
Many manufacturing firms continue to rely on the skills of highly trained skilled workers, numerous manufacturers are beginning to worry about the serious shortage of skilled workers, and about their ability to retain and to generate their skills in the future. The shift to offshore production and the aging of the skilled labor force were cited as major concerns in this regard. Some private companies have begun to tackle the issue. Kubota Corporation, a leading manufacturer of agricultural machinery has a labor force of about 9,000 skilled workers. About 40 percent are in their 50s and only 10 percent are in their 30s. Over the next nine years, 40 percent of its skilled workers will leave the company at the mandatory retirement age. To deal with this situation, the company has instigated a number of programs to ensure that the necessary skills are being passed on to its younger workers. It has developed a system for checking each individual's skills and is now hiring retirees as instructors for many of its training programs.
The nation's unemployment rate averaged 3.3 percent in 1996, up from 3.2 percent the previous year. An all-time high was recorded for the third straight year. These findings were announced in a preliminary report on the Labor Force Survey by the Management and Coordination Agency (MCA). The number of unemployed persons increased by 90,000 to 2.25 million.
The Labor Force Survey for March (which was released on the same day) showed that the unemployment rate for March dropped 0.1 point from the February figure to a seasonally adjusted 3.2 percent. The number of employed persons rose for the thirteenth consecutive month to 64.89 million, and the unemployment rate fell for the first time in four months. According to the MCA, the severe unemployment situation was continuing although signs of recovery may be seen in the growth in the number of employed persons. Moreover, those leaving work voluntarily to switch to another job increased by 40,000 from the year before to 910,000, while those who quit for other reasons decreased by 50,000 from the previous year to 550,000. By age, the unemployment rate for those between the age of 15 and 24 was a seasonally adjusted to 8.1 percent, up 1.3 percentage points from a month earlier. Unemployment has improved overall, but the situation remains critical for Japan's youth.
The number of fatalities from industrial accidents has increased substantially over the past three years, according to a Ministry of Labour report. The number of such deaths has increased from 2,245 in 1993, to 2,301 in 1994, 2,414 in 1995 and 2,363 in 1996. In 1996, the figure actually dropped slightly from 1995 which was artificially driven up by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (in January 1995) and the sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system (in March 1995). Correcting for these unusual events, the real figure for 1995 has been get at 2,348 deaths. Accordingly, in 1996 it could be said that the number of deaths increased by 15, showing a rise for the each of the last three years. This was the first time that such a sustained rise has occurred since the Industrial Safety and Health Law was enacted in 1972. The Ministry of Labour is on the watch for future trends in industrial accidents. By industry, the number of deaths in construction totaled 1,001. That accounted for 42.2 percent of all deaths owing to work. Manufacturing tallied 405 deaths (17.1 percent of the total); land cargo transport, 333 (14.1 percent).
The sharp increase in the number of deaths in land cargo transport (from 281 in 1993) constituted a major factor accounting for the recent increase in deaths. The Ministry attributes this to the deregulation of trucking in 1989, a move which intensifed competition in that industry. It is currently implementing a program to lower the incidence of such accidents in the land cargo transport industry.
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