Vol.40-No.9 September 1, 2001
In Japanese firms one type of job is known as general track employment (ippanshoku). Those in this employment track are usually engaged in routine office jobs such as sorting and filing and various other types of paperwork. This employment track was once attractive to many female university students who wished to work at major trading companies after graduation. Recently, many firms have been replacing general track employees with dispatched workers and the general track is beginning to disappear.However, companies such as Sumitomo Corporation have resumed the hiring of new graduates as general track employees. In the case of Sumitomo it is first time in three years to hire such employees. For the last three years, the firm has made more use of dispatched workers instead of hiring general track employees. However, firms are not legally permitted to employ such people for more than one year, except for certain types of job. The range of duties permitted to dispatched workers is limited, too. Thus it has become increasingly difficult to cover the full range of such duties with only dispatched workers. Moreover, the extended use of dispatched workers has made management more aware of the important contribution general track employment makes to the running of business. While the work done by those in the general track had in the past been regarded as supplementary, there now seems to be a growing appreciation of the know-how involved, and more attention is now being given to the retention and transmission of such know-how within the firm.
Some firms, too, are beginning to make use of general track female employees as valuable staff members who possess a good understanding of female consumers. For example, Wacoal Corp., a major underwear manufacturer, now requires its general track female employees, who account for 15 percent of its female employees, to attend meetings concerning shop management and sales planning. The aim is to reflect more fully the opinions of female employees in the business. Sumitomo Forestry and Mitsui Home Co., Ltd. are major housing companies that have hired new female graduates in their sales departments. While some in the industry say that housing sales require the physical stamina associated with male employees, these firms have come to understand that sales departments need to access the feeling which women have for everyday life (including, for example, their knowledge about kitchen facilities).So far, female office workers, especially those in the general track, have had only limited opportunities for promotion. However, the Asahi Bank, a major banking institution, is planning to make more effective use of personnel by promoting to managerial posts female staff members originally hired as general track employees. Selected female employees from among those who wish to be promoted will be assigned to duties such as financing and negotiations outside the bank, and, at a later stage, to the management of clerical work as, for example, section chiefs at branch offices.
While there is a tendency in many Japanese firms in general to avoid hiring general track employees for supplementary work, there also seems to be a movement at some firms to re-evaluate that category of employee, with various schemes being conceived in order to encourage such employees to make better use of their potential abilities.
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