JILPT Research Eye
Employment Support and Career Guidance for Young People

June 5, 2018
(Originally published on February 27, 2017 in Japanese)


Executive Director


Japan’s employment rate has gradually recovered from its post-Lehman slump, and in the last few years the employment climate has been rosy for high school graduates, as well as graduates from higher education. Despite this improvement in the employment rate for young people in general, many still have employment-related problems. These include a lack of motivation for job search, or a failure to find work even if they do try. It is important that we examine ways of supporting these young people in their bid to find work and guiding them in their careers, based on the current situation.

In 2013 and 2016, JILPT conducted two surveys with a view to addressing this situation. The first was a survey on job seeking support by office of career services in universities, junior colleges, national colleges of technology [kosen] and vocational schools throughout Japan. The second was a survey of career guidance in senior high schools. These surveys clarified the present situation of employment support and career guidance for young people in education, as well as issues felt by those working for students in the field. This paper examines the present situations and issues regarding support for young people when choosing a career, based on the results of these two surveys.

Changes in students’ awareness and problems in supporting them

The result of the first survey mentioned above (JILPT, 2014; hereinafter “the university survey” [Note 1]) will be used to examine how staff of career services responsible for employment support perceive recent changes in the motivation and attitudes of students today, if compared to before. Figure 1 shows staff evaluations of changes in the motivation and attitudes of students over the last three to five years. In this part of the survey, staffs were asked to evaluate seven topics on a scale of 1 to 5. The topics included students’ attitude to classes and efforts to prepare for employment. Since “3” was the middle score, it signified a neutral evaluation ーneither one nor the other― in all seven topics, but the other scores differed according to the topic. In topic 1, for example, a score closer to 1 meant that the attitude had improved, while a score closer to 5 meant that it had deteriorated. In topics 2, 3 and 4, a score closer to 1 signaled an increase, while a score closer to 5 meant a decrease. In topics 5, 6 and 7, conversely, scores closer to 1 signaled a decrease while those closer to 5 meant an increase.

Figure 1. Changes in motivation and attitudes of students over the last three to five years
Figure 1

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Note: In topic 1, circled the applicable score on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = “Has improved” and 5 = “Has deteriorated.” In topics 2, 3 and 4, circled the applicable score where 1 = “Has increased” and 5 = “Has decreased.” In topics 5, 6 and 7, finally, 1 = “Has decreased” and 5 = “Has increased.”

Although a neutral response of “neither one nor the other” was the most common choice in all topics, different institutions show different trends in the ratio of other responses. In universities, for example, scores of 1 and 2, signifying an improvement or increase, were more than scores of 4-5 (deterioration or decrease) in four topics: 1. Attitude to classes and motivation to learn, 2. Awareness of future career design, 3. Positivity toward obtaining qualifications and attending lectures, and 4. Students’ participation in employment support services. In other words, staff members responsible for employment support feel that students now have more motivation to learn and greater awareness toward their future employment than they used to have.

However, responses to “6. Percentage of students expected to face difficulty in normal job-seeking activity” provided a contrast to this positive trend. Here, although about 40-50% of universities chose the neutral option 3, the percentages of scores 4 and 5 indicating an increase (i.e. deterioration) were more than those of 1 and 2 signifying a decrease (improvement). This trend was generally echoed in the other types of institution, where responses to topics 1 to 5 differed from the response to 6.

In this survey, institutions were also asked about tasks being tackled with priority now or over the medium to long term by their offices of career services and career centers. Here, the most common responses in all types of institution were “Create career awareness from the early years” and “Proactively approach students who have low work motivation or difficulty in finding work.” Out of 17 items in all, the latter was the third most commonly chosen in universities (68%), the first in junior colleges (72%), the third in kosen (47%), and the second in vocational schools (57%), thus obtaining a high response from all types of institution (Table 1).

Table 1. Tasks tackled with priority now or over the medium to long term (multiple responses )
Tasks currently being tackled with priority Universities Junior colleges Kosen Vocational schools
1 Encourage use of offices of career services and career centers 342 75.5 121 68.8 9 17.7 31 40.3
2 Create career awareness from the early years 357 78.8 124 70.5 40 78.4 39 50.7
3 Enhance internships 256 56.5 56 31.8 26 51.0 22 28.6
4 Develop or enhance school’s own career training program 170 37.5 47 26.7 18 35.3 19 24.7
5 Proactively approach students who have low work motivation or difficulty in finding work 308 68.0 127 72.2 24 47.1 44 57.1
6 Improve employment rates 271 59.8 92 52.3 12 23.5 52 67.5
7 Enhance the system of individual counseling 278 61.4 114 64.8 14 27.5 41 53.3
8 Start or enhance information provision services to graduates 135 29.8 48 27.3 8 15.7 32 41.6
9 Start or enhance information provision services to parents 143 31.6 45 25.6 8 15.7 15 19.5
10 Link with and utilize businesses in the education information industry 76 16.8 31 17.6 10 19.6 13 16.9
11 Create or enhance networks with other universities, institutes of education, etc 91 20.1 21 11.9 2 3.9 1 1.3
12 Create or enhance internal networks for career support services 150 33.1 51 29.0 11 21.6 14 18.2
13 Integrate specialized education with career education 129 28.5 42 23.9 15 29.4 19 24.7
14 Increase awareness of career education among teachers and staff 198 43.7 60 34.1 12 23.5 22 28.6
15 Gather and maintain individual information on students 195 43.1 85 48.3 7 13.7 29 37.7
16 Improve skills of career center staff 205 45.3 56 31.8 8 15.7 15 19.5
17 Others 16 3.5 1 0.6 4 7.8 1 1.3

Note: 1. F=Frequency
2. Figures missing: 9 universities, 1 junior college

These results reveal the present reality that a relatively large number of institutions find difficulty in their response to support students who have difficulty in finding employment while an improvement is seen in the formation of vocational awareness and motivation to find employment among students as a whole.

Present situation and issues with career guidance in senior high schools

We have seen above how staff concerned with employment support in universities and other institutions of higher education. That staffs are increasingly aware of students’ difficulty in finding work or deciding their careers. This trend does not seem limited to higher education only. In some responses to the university survey, staff in offices of career services suggested that making students aware of career choices once they had entered higher education was already too late. We therefore followed the university survey with a survey on career education and guidance at senior high schools, as the educational stage immediately preceding this (hereinafter the “high school survey” [Note 2]). The main aim of this second survey was to clarify how the two aspects of priority on standard scores and respect for personality are balanced with each other when giving guidance on careers in senior high schools. Many of the questions were the same as those in a survey conducted by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations (NCUEE) in the early 1990s (NCUEE, 1991). Given the diversification of entrance exams and the rising rate of advancement to higher education, attention was also paid to differences between the early 90s and more recent times. The survey also focused on differences in career guidance among the various types of institution. While data on the survey results were published in March, this paper introduces some of the responses on the present situation and issues regarding career guidance, as seen by teachers responsible for this guidance (JILPT, 2017).

In the high school survey, respondents were asked about the main issues in career guidance encountered over the last few years up to the present. Their views were sought on four issues with students and four issues with the system, to which they were asked to indicate whether they “Agree,” “Agree to some extent,” “Not so agree” or “Disagree.” Figure 2 presents a graph showing the results for three different types of school (those mainly offering general courses, those mainly offering integrated courses, and those focusing on technical, commercial, home economics, agriculture, or etc. [specialized / vocational senior high school] ). In the graph, the topics are re-arranged in order of those with the highest rate of strongly positive responses (“Agree”). As this reveals, the topic with which most respondents agreed, across all types of school, was an issue related to students – “Uniform guidance is difficult as some students have strong awareness of issues such as academic achievement and motivation while others do not.” In fact, around 90% of respondents in each type of school gave responses of “Agree” or “Agree to some extent” on this topic. In other issues with students, “Dealing with student who are underachieved or have problems in academic achievement” and “Dealing with students who have difficulty in communicating with friends or teachers” also received particularly high positive response rates, particularly from schools mainly offering integrated courses and specialized / vocational senior high schools. This reveals that differences between students in terms of academic achievement and motivation have also widened in senior high schools, and that many senior high schools regard how to address this reality as an issue in terms of career guidance.

Figure 2. Issues with career guidance in different types of school
Figure 2

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A look at system-related issues, meanwhile, shows that the selection rate for “Teachers are too busy to spend time on career guidance” is highest in all types of school, with responses of “Agree” and “Agree to some extent” accounting for nearly 90% combined. This suggests that it is difficult to provide uniform guidance to students who differ in terms of academic aspects and motivation, but that teachers are already burdened with different kinds of work and feel that there is not enough time to give guidance [Note 3].

Background to the divergence in awareness and aspiration of students regarding career choices

Taking the results of these two surveys in combination, dealing with students in higher and secondary education who have low awareness and aspiration with regard to vocational choices and employment would seem to be a common issue both for institutes of higher education and for senior high schools. It also seems evident that the divergence between students with high awareness and aspiration and those with low already arises at the stage of senior high school. This then becomes increasingly pronounced when they enter higher education, leading to an increase in students who have difficulty finding employment.

In institutes of higher education, more students now tends to have stronger awareness and aspiration regarding their careers and future lives, but there is also concern over an increasing number of students who have difficulty in finding employment. Behind this lies the fact that college enrollment rate have risen, due mainly to a decrease in the 18-year-old population and diversification of the university entrance exam system; rather than seeking employment, enrollment to higher education has become the standard path after graduating from senior high school. Declining difficulty of admission has led to a greater diversity of students entering institutes of higher education. In light of this, it goes without saying that diversity among students will increase not only in terms of their awareness and aspiration regarding vocational choices and employment, but also in terms of their academic and other abilities.

Another point is that, since the intrinsic goal of courses at university and other institutions of higher education is to acquire specialized knowledge and skills, a student’s ability and interests should be taken into account when determining which institution, faculty and department they should choose after graduating from senior high school [Note 4]. In recent years, however, going to higher education has become less limited to those with ability and inclination in a specialist field. Instead, more and more students seem to be advancing to higher education without thinking too deeply about whether their chosen areas of expertise are suited to their personality, or how they will lead to their future work and occupations. This could cause students to be maladjustment, behind their work, become disinterested after matriculation, establish no groundwork for a career after graduation, and lead to no motivation for activities aimed at either finding employment or pursuing their studies. Statements by staff working in offices of career services in institutions of higher education also show doubts over the way in which future paths are decided at the senior high school stage. The following are some of the optional statements received in response to the survey of career services of higher educations.

  • a) “Career guidance up to high school level seems to be designed as a preparation for university enrollment, or college going process rather than being geared with a life-long perspective. The pattern when choosing a university seems to be a stopgap measure of finding a course that the student is capable of entering, instead of being based on the student’s choice for future life and profession.” (by a staff of a university)
  • b) “Although students with aspirations can find employment when we introduce good job openings and teach job seeking techniques, it is now impossible for all students to find work. This is due to a conspicuous increase in students who enter vocational school without having a specific image of their employment after graduation. For example, they go to vocational school because they don’t want to enter employment right away following their high school graduation, because entering university seems too hard for them, or because they have graduated from university but can’t find a job.” (by a staff of a vocational school)

Turning to career guidance in senior high schools as reflected in responses to the high school survey, we may consider two possible directions –one focusing on hensachi scores [Note 5], where priority is placed on the potential for achieving passes to higher education institutions, and the other focusing on students’ interests and other aspects of their personality. It would seem that, although the importance of the latter is understood as a principle, in actual practice the priority is on career guidance based on hensachi scores, particularly in common type of college preparatory upper-secondary schools (senior high schools). In the high school survey, the speculation was that career guidance based on hensachi scores might have weakened compared to the early 1990s, but the results did not bear this out (Figure 3 and 4). Entrance exam systems have diversified and methods of university entrance other than by general tests (such as those based on recommendation or Admission Office criteria) have increased since the beginning of the 2000. Nevertheless, there has been no change in the intensity of competition in general tests for entrance to national, public and private universities, which are said to present difficult hurdles. As a result, hensachi scores still seem to be used as important indicators of academic achievement when it comes to entrance exams.

Figure 3. Necessity of career guidance based on academic achievement focusing on hensachi scores
Figure 3

Figure 4. Necessity of career guidance based on individual aptitude
Figure 4

This tendency to prioritize academic achievement is evident in attitudes toward university entrance exams (Figure 5). Staff responsible for university guidance tend to oppose the introduction of diverse entrance exam systems; opinions disagreeing with the recommendation system, the proposal to reduce the number of exam subjects, and “ichigei nyushi” (entrance exam based on a certain individual skill without considering basic scholastic proficiency) exceed those in agreement with them. And although there is now more agreement with the introduction of interviews and paper reviews, responses to the JILPT survey show more support for prioritizing academic achievement in entrance exams as a whole, compared to responses to the NCUEE survey. This could be seen as a sign of risk awareness that students might go to an institution they can enter more easily, without having the basic academic achievement.

Figure 5. Attitudes to the entrance exam system in Japan
Figure 2

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Of course, developing basic academic achievement is still a very important task, whether going to further education or entering employment. But if too much emphasis is placed on career guidance that prioritizes academic achievement in order to increase the record of advancement to higher education, a very worrying point is whether the same uniform guidance can be given both to students with good academic achievement and strong awareness and to those without. Moreover, if such uniform guidance cannot be given, how should guidance be given to students with low academic achievement and awareness?

Aiming for future initiatives

Students who have low awareness or motivation regarding careers and employment, or who have difficulty in furthering their studies or finding employment due to problems of academic achievement, need customized support and treatment based on individual counseling. To enhance this individual support and guidance, the implementation system will need to satisfy certain conditions. For example, the number of personnel engaged in guidance and support will need to be increased, while responsible staff members will need to acquire abilities such as specialist skills in counseling.

On this point, there are examples of higher education institutions enlisting the help of supervising tutors to monitor the progress of students who do not go to offices of career services. In other cases, they seek the cooperation of public employment security offices or private specialists in career support when providing information on vacancies, preparing strategies for job interviews in hiring process and personal information sheets [Note 6]. They use this approach to compensate for staff shortages or supplement specialist skills in counseling, by tying up with other internal departments or enlisting the help of external institutions.

In the results of the survey targeting senior high schools, meanwhile, the problems highlighted were that teachers were too busy with their routine work to spare time for interviews with students, or for training to acquire new knowledge and career guidance skills. This has led to differences between teachers in their levels of knowledge and skills. Although the difficulty of dealing with students who cannot communicate and have learning disorders was also mentioned, individual attention to such students is particularly essential, and dealing with them requires specialist knowledge and appropriate handling. As well as revising the system so that teachers can devote enough time to career guidance, it would also be effective to create a platform for collaboration with public employment security offices (Hello Work), experts working for local offices and others when the situation is too difficult to be handled by the teachers alone.

As a final comment, mention should also be made of educational initiatives aimed at creating vocational awareness through learning activities, with a view to awakening vocational awareness and motivation among young people. An example of this is the career education that was promoted between the end of the 1990s and the 2000s. Since the content and methods used in this education vary in quality depending on the institution, various discussions on the content of career education in practice and its effects are now underway [Note 7]. Nevertheless, the positive overall change in learning motivation and awareness toward employment seen in the university survey (Figure 1) could have been partly affected by promotion through career education. Given that awareness regarding careers and vocations can be increased not only through career guidance but also through learning activity, it is surely important to nurture awareness among young people in general, from a long-term point of view.

Note 1. Questionnaires were distributed to 1,456 universities and other institutions nationwide, with a recovery rate of 52.5%. The analysis covered a total of 764 institutions (459 universities, 177 junior colleges, 51 national colleges of technology [kosen] and 77 vocational schools).

Note 2. For the high school survey, questionnaires were sent to 4,924 senior high schools, specialized / vocational high schools, and specialized training colleges (upper secondary courses) nationwide. The questionnaires were completed by 1,996 schools, giving a recovery rate of 40.5%. In the Research Series, no. 167, the analysis covered 1,956 full-time senior high schools.

Note 3. The questionnaire included a space for optional statements on issues related to career guidance. Besides those concerning students and systems, other problems concerning the quality and skills of teachers, the financial circumstances of families and problems with parents were also raised.

Note 4. For example, some reports reveal a higher aptitude among students who more closely match the temperament profile thought necessary for students by teaching staff in specialist fields affiliated to universities (NCUEE, 1993).

Note 5. Hensachi scores are assumed to indicate the competitiveness of each Japanese university and express students’ academic achievement. The ranking of a university by hensachi scores positively correlates to how prestigious it is. Students take several mock examinations to know their own hensachi scores and find their best matches for the admission.

Note 6. The results of an interview survey on specific support provided by offices of career services and career centers in universities have been compiled (JILPT, 2015).

Note 7. A nationwide survey on career education in public senior high schools has shown that the various types of school do not provide a consistent quality of career education, leading to gaps in the level of support for students’ career development. Developing systems and improving efforts are particularly seen as pressing tasks in general course schools (Guidance and Counseling Research Center, National Institute for Educational Policy Research, 2013).


  1. Guidance and Counseling Research Center, National Institute for Educational Policy Research. 2013. “Comprehensive Fact-Finding Survey on Career Education and Career Guidance, 1st Report (Summary): Focusing on the Present Situation and Issues Regarding Career Education.”
  2. JILPT. 2014. Daigaku/tankidaigaku/kotosenmongakko/ senmongakko ni okeru kyaria gaidansu to shushoku shien no hoho: Shushokuka / kyaria senta ni taisuru chosa kekka [Methods of career guidance and employment support in universities, junior colleges, technical colleges and vocational schools: Results from a survey of offices of career services and career centers]. JILPT Research Series no.116. Tokyo: JILPT.
  3. ___. 2015. Daigaku kyaria senta ni okeru shushoku konnan gakusei shien no jittai: hiaringu chosa ni yoru kento [Reality of support by university career centers for students who face difficulty in finding work: Consideration based on an interview survey]. JILPT Research Material Series no.156. Tokyo: JILPT.
  4. ___. 2017. Kotogakko no shinro shido to kyaria gaidansu no hoho ni kansuru chosa kekka [Results of survey on methods of career guidance in senior high schools]. JILPT Research Series no.167. Tokyo: JILPT.
  5. NCUEE (National Center for University Entrance Examinations. 1991. Koto gakko no shingaku shido ni okeru kosei soncho ni kansuru chosa kenkyu houkokusho: Hensachi o shutoshita shingaku shido no kaizen o chushin to shite [Research report on respect for individuality in senior high school academic advancement guidance: Focusing on improvement of progression guidance based on deviation scores]. Tokyo: NCUEE.
  6. ___. Daigaku no kaku senmon bunya no shingaku tekisei ni kansuru chousa kenkyu hokokusho: Daigaku nyugakusha senbatsu shiryo to shite no tekisei kensa no tame no kiso kenkyu [Research report on aptitude for academic advancement in areas of expertise in universities: Basic research for aptitude tests as a material for university entrance selection]. Tokyo: NCUEE.