Vol.38-No.2 February 1,1999
This paper compares career development and skill formation among white-collar workers. It pays particular attention to employees with a college degree who are working as division and section managers. The study was conducted in three nations: Japan, the United States and Germany. The data are from a questionnaire administered to division and section managers in HRM, marketing and accounting at large companies*. This paper considers (i) the role of the external labor market in career development, (ii) how employees developed the skills necessary for their present jobs, and (iii) the breadth of their work experience.
The number of previous employers varies greatly between Japan, the U.S. and Germany (Table 1). A high 81.5 percent of the Japanese respondents had worked with only their current employer. On the other hand, only a small percent of the American and German respondents had done so. Moreover, in the U.S. and Germany, the number of other companies worked for was also considerable.
The ratio of those managers who changed companies varies between Japan, the
U.S. and Germany. However, the average age at which managers with previous
employment experience joined their present company is around 34 and is
almost the same in each of the three countries (Table 2). Table 3 shows that
in each country virtually every manager from outside joined their current
employer in their 20s or 30s. Nevertheless, Japan had more managers who
entered in their 20s while the U.S. and Germany had more managers who joined
their present employer in their 30s. In Japan, 14.8 percent of the managers
had switched to their current employer in their 50s, probably owing to the
practice of tenseki, a change in their permanent place of employment just
before the mandatory retirement age.
Did those who came to their present job from another company continue to perform the same functions or did they end up performing different functions? Ninety three percent of the 615 American managers and 89 percent of the 474 German managers provided information on the job that they had spent the longest period of time at their present company and at their previous company. Among them, 67.7 percent of the American managers who provided that information and 50.7 percent of their German counterparts said that the jobs on which they had spent the longest period of time in each company were the same.
Table 4 shows the career paths followed by section and division manager. In
Japan, the majority of section and division managers never worked for
another company and were internally promoted to their current post. In the
U.S. and Germany, such section and division managers are the minority, most
have came to their current companies from other firms. Of them, the largest
number have came to their present company and then been internally promoted.
Section and division managers who were employed from the outside directly into their present position account for approximately a quarter of all section and division managers in the U.S. and Germany.
When answering about learning opportunities and work experience that seemed particularly relevant to doing their present jobs, managers in all three nations, listed two kinds of expreience within their top three. Table 5 shows that "experiencing a variety of jobs" and "experiencing a specific job for a long time" were important for their current jobs. Experience or on-the-job traning (OJT) in the work currently performed was considered to be the second- or third-most useful preparation for the conduct of their current job. However, broadly based experience in a variety of related jobs was seen as most useful by the managers in all three nations. The other item in the top three for the Japanese managers was "work experience in other areas"; for the American managers it was "education at one's final educational institution"; and for the German respondents it was "education and training undertaken through self-study or otherwise at one's own expense." In Japan and Germany, "education at one's final educational institution" was listed as important by only a few.
Which careers are most useful in terms of producing competent section managers (Table 6)? In all three countries, only a few managers chose "having long experience doing the same job in the functional area." In short, having work experience in only a narrow range of functions is seen as unsuitable preparation. Japanese managers ranked "to experience other functions as well as the current one" first, with a high 56.9 percent. They ranked "to have broad-based experience in the current function" and "to experience many functions" second with 16.1 percent. The American managers, meanwhile, ranked "to have a broad-based experience of jobs in the function" first with 57 percent and "to experience a few jobs in the function for a long period of time" second with 23.8 percent. The German managers ranked "to broadly experience jobs in the function" and "to experience other functions as well as the current one" in the 30 percent level. Overall, American managers put more stress on broad-based experience in the relevant area of responsibility while Japanese managers emphasized the importance of experience in other areas of responsibility and German managers attached weight to having experience in a wide range of jobs and in other areas of responsibility.
The majority of section and division managers in the three countries valued work experience highly. This was especially true of broadly based work experience within their current area of responsibility, as a method of acquiring skills useful in fulfilling those responsibilities.
Looking first at the area in which each respondent had the longest experience, Table 7 shows that the largest percentage of managers in each country are now working in the area in which they have the longest work experience. Within the company (80.1 percent of respondents in the U.S.; 64.7 percent in Japan; and 69.4 percent in Germany).
Table 7 shows the number of years of experience in the single area most worked in as a percentage of the number of years employed at the present company. Those who have spent more than 76 percent of their time in a single area are referred to as the "single function type" (with long experience in a specific function). Those with 51 percent-75 percent of their time in a single area are referred to as the "quasi-single function type" (some experience in other functions, but with relatively long experience in a specific function). Those with less than 50 percent may be referred to as the "plural function type" (with experience in several functions but with no long experience in any single specific function).
In Japan, all three types are found in roughly similar proportions. However, in the U.S. and Germany, the single function type accounts for about 50 percent of all managers while the remaining two types each account for about a quarter of all managers.
In all three nations most managers who have stayed a long time in their current area of responsibility are of the single function type. On the other hand, many of the managers who have spent more time working in other areas than the current one are of the plural function type. However, compared with the other two countries, Japan has many managers of the plural function type and very few of the single function type (Table 7).
Those who have stayed longest in the same area as that in which they are currently employed at their present company were managers in personnel, education, business sales, marketing and accounting.
Table 8 shows that those who had worked elsewhere in another company were more likely to be the single function type. On the other hand, many of those who had worked for the same company for their entire career had accumulated a wealth of experience working in several areas. This tendency is especially notable among Japanese and German managers. In the U.S., this tendency is much less pronounced, and many American managers are the single function type regardless of whether they moved from one company to another.
In all three countries only a few managers have experienced just one area of responsibility. Slightly more than half (about 55%) have experienced many kinds of jobs. The remainder have some limited experience in several different kinds of jobs.
The career path of Japanese, American and German section and division managers differs considerably in terms of the experience they have had in the external labor market. An extremely small number of Japanese managers have changed their employer. On the other hand, only a small number of American and German managers have not changed their employer.
Many American and German managers switched companies frequently. In the U.S. and Germany, many managers have changed their company many times. Many joined their present company before the age of 40 and only a little more than 20 percent changed their company after 40. In short, many American and German managers switch their companies often in their 20s or 30s. Compared with their Japanese counterparts, many American and German managers switched companies in their 30s. Furthermore, more American and German managers were employed directly into their current posts from the outside than has occurred with their Japanese counterparts. In addition, many American managers tend to accumulate experience by working in the same area for their current and their previous employer. Many switch to their present company to more fully utilize skills acquired at their earlier employers.
Managers in all three countries indicated that broad-based work experience in their current area of work offered them a good background for performing efficiently in their present jobs and good opportunities for skill development. They considered OJT to be the most effective ability-developoment method. Among managers in the three countries, Japanese managers seem to stress work experience in their present areas of responsibility, as well as in other areas. This is seen as desirable in the fostering of section managers. To develop skills and foster section managers, American managers emphasize the range of work experience in the current area of responsibility while their Japanese counterparts stress not only that experience but experience in other areas. German managers are somewhere between the two in this regard.
When classifying section and division managers into the three different types (the single function type, the quasi-single function type and the plural function type), many American and German managers are of the single function type. Japanese managers, however, are equally in all three types. Looking at their experience in the area in which they have worked the longest at their present company, many of the managers in all three nations have broad-based work experience in the area for which they are currently responsible. This indicates that in the U.S. and Germany, the majority of the managers have much experience in a single function while in Japan approximately a third of the managers have experience in a number of areas of managerial responsibility.
The survey was conducted between July and August 1996 in Japan, between June and September 1995 in the U.S. and between November 1996 and January 1997 in Germany. For details of the survey method and attributes of the respondents, see Japan Institute of Labour, A Comparative Study of Human Resources Development of College Graduates in Industry Japan Institute of Labour (1998). The reports includes the results of case studies in Japan, the U.S., Germany and British managers.
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