JILPT Research Eye
Companies that Promote Employees’ Career Self-Reliance and Specific Initiatives[Note 1]

April 23, 2018
(Originally published on October 13, 2017 in Japanese)


Makoto Fujimoto

Senior Researcher, Department of Career Development

I. Focus on career self-reliance

The concept of career self-reliance has been focused these days in the discussion on corporate personnel, labor management, and employees’ career formation, and has become one of the main topics in the field. Career self-reliance is defined as a “(personal) life-long commitment to developing one’s own career and continuing to learn new things in a rapidly changing environment,” (Hanada et al. 2003) and from the perspective of the company it is regarded as “transforming the structure of the personnel management and training system from the previous top-down organizational paradigm to that of career design and formation by the individual employee” (Hanada 2006).

After consideration of these ideas in the latter half of the 1990s and the early 2000s, they came to be emphasized by enterprises as a desirable way of forming careers (e.g.: Japan Federation of Employers’ Associations 1999, Japan Business Federation 2006, etc.) and various steps were taken toward implementation. Meanwhile, on the part of workers there has been an increasingly prevalent stance of intention about their own careers independently rather than relying on their employers, and according to the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW)’s “Fiscal 2015 Basic Survey of Human Resources Development,” 66.7% of regular employees and 45.9% of non-regular employees responded “I would like to think about my professional life on my own terms,” or “I would prefer think about my professional life on my own terms if possible” (MHLW 2016).

II. Career-related policies at companies that emphasize career self-reliance

What are the characteristics of companies that emphasize employees’ career self-reliance, in terms of career-related measures such as job placement and competency development? Let us examine some data from the 2016 Survey on in-house training, competency development and career management[Note 2] conducted by JILPT (hereinafter referred to as “the JILPT Survey”).

In the above survey, we called companies responded placing importance on “promoting employees’ voluntary career formation” by “career self-reliance promoting companies,” and compared the implementation status of policies related to job placement, careers, and competence development (Table 1) to companies that had given negative response. First of all, compared with their counterparts that do not promote career self-reliance, career self-reliance promoting companies have more than double the rate of focusing on assigning work that reflects employees’ own intentions or providing business experience beyond the boundaries of their departments. However, it must be noted that even among career self-reliance promoting companies, only 20 to 30% of companies were vigorously engaged in the above-described measures.

Also, while the rate of implementation of in-house staff recruitment programs, which are frequently adopted as a human resource management policy for realization of career self-reliance, differs between career self-reliance promoting companies and those that do not promote career self-reliance, a statistical analysis reveals that there are no clearly identifiable tendencies.

Table 1. Implementation status of job placement, employees’ career development and support for employee’s self-development
Career self-reliance promoting companies (n=147) Companies that do not promote career self-reliance (n=384)
Initiatives related to placement    
Focusing on placement in positions that reflect employees’ own intentions*** 27.9 10.2
Focusing on providing professional experience beyond the boundaries of employees’ own departments** 22.4 10.9
Implementation of an in-house staff recruitment system 21.1 15.4
Collection of information on, and involvement in, employees’ careers    
A self-appraisal system+ 52.4 43.5
Setting career goals for the future as part of the goal management system+ 57.1 47.7
Company’s tracking of goals and progress status of each employee’s competency development and career formation** 35.4 23.2
Personnel department conducting individual interviews with employees concerning careers 12.9 9.6
Managers conducting individual interviews with subordinates concerning careers* 58.5 48.2
Creation of database of evaluation records of each employee 34.7 32.8
Creation of database of business performance records of each employee 30.6 27.6
Creation of database of training history of each employee 30.6 28.6
Initiatives related to self-development support    
Provision employees with information on training and seminars*** 74.1 52.9
Enrolling in training or seminars as a requirement for promotion and career advancement 11.6 10.2
Cash support for training and seminar attendance+ 63.3 53.9
Financial assistance without specified purpose 3.4 2.1
Implementation of self-selected training*** 23.1 9.9
Implementation of e-learning* 25.2 16.9
Providing information to, and raising awareness of, managers in each department** 32.0 21.1
Introduction of shortened-hours work system and leave system for attending training and seminars 3.4 3.1
Support for self-development over long periods of time, such as enrolling at universities, graduate schools, vocational or other schools, etc.* 13.6 7.8

Note: ***<.001 **<.01 *<.05 +<.1 (Chi-Square Independence Test).

Regarding collection of information on, and involvement in, employees’ careers, the rate of implementation of “a self-appraisal system,” “setting career goals for the future as part of the goal management system,” and “managers conducting individual interviews with subordinates concerning careers,” exceeds 50% in career self-reliance promoting companies, significantly higher than those of companies that do not emphasize career self-reliance. In addition, career self-reliance promoting companies had higher rates of implementation of “company’s tracking of goals and progress status of each employee’s competency development and career formation.”

Among initiatives related to employee self-development (=voluntary competency development), it was confirmed by statistical analysis that there are differences in the tendencies of career self-reliance promoting companies and others in terms of “providing employees with information on training and seminars,” “financial support for training or seminar attendance,” “implementation of self-selected training,” “implementation of e-learning,” “providing information to, and raising awareness of, managers in each department,” and “support for self-development over long periods of time, such as enrolling at universities, graduate schools, vocational or other schools, etc.” Nearly 3/4 of career self-reliance promoting companies were engaged in “providing employees with information on training and seminars,” more than 20 percentage points higher than companies that do not promote self-reliance. Providing information on competency development opportunities outside the company is a widespread practice and can be viewed as a fundamental initiative for the promotion of employees’ career self-reliance.

III. What kind of company places emphasis on career self-reliance? : Relationship with management activities

The statements in existing literature and research on the circumstances surrounding the growing importance of career self-reliance (Takahashi 2003; Japan Business Federation 2006; Takeishi 2016, etc.) can be summarized as follows: Companies appear to promote career self-reliance for their own employees when carrying out management activities that (1) aim to offer customers high value through customer-centered proposals, etc., (2) require more effective responses to environmental changes, such as when there is frequent new business development, or (3) involve difficulty in making predictions based on past experience, such as with global business expansion.

Table 2 summarizes the relationship between the management policies of each companies and promotion of career self-reliance based on the results of the JILPT survey. Statistical analysis indicates that management policies differ, in terms of career self-reliance promotion tendencies, depending on three aspects: "adding high value or low cost?” “speed of business expansion,” and “decision-making style.” In the group that seeks to strengthen competitiveness by adding high value, the ratio of career self-reliance-promoting companies is higher by 10 percentage points or more compared to the group that aims to boost competitiveness by lowering costs, indicating that the tendency to promote career self-reliance more at companies that aim to add high value, noted in existing research and literature, is actually occurring. With regard to “speed of business expansion,” the percentage of companies promoting career self-reliance was higher among companies that emphasize rapid business expansion than among companies that pursue expansion cautiously. This result is also in line with existing research and literature, which points out that corporations seek career self-reliance when it is necessary to respond to environmental changes. In terms of decision-making style, the ratio of companies promoting career self-reliance is higher in the group that emphasizes top-down decision-making, which we may infer is due to the fact that top-down decision-making is correlated with a strong tendency toward pursuit of rapid business expansion.

Table 2. Percentage of companies promoting career self-reliance, by management policy
n Ratio of companies focusing on promoting independent career building by employees (%)
(1) High quality or low cost+ A Boost copmetitiveness by adding value 419 28.9
B Boost competitiveness by lowering costs 78 17.9
(2) High quality or aggressive marketing A Invest energy in improving the quality of products and services 379 28.0
B Invest energy in strengthening sales capability and marketing 116 26.8
(3) Corporate scale A Priority on maintaining corporate scale 286 30.0
B Priority on expanding corporate scale 209 25.8
(4) In-house procurement or specialization A All processes from development to production and sales done in-house 254 28.0
B Focus on own company's special field 216 26.4
(5) Business strategy and human resources management A Strategy planning in line with existing human resources 188 28.2
B Human resources hired in line with business strategy 313 27.8
(6) Creating new or growing existing business A Priority on creating new business 161 31.1
B Priority on maintaining and strengthening existing business 335 25.4
(7) Domestic or overseas A Priority on domestic markets 432 26.0
B Priority on overseas markets 57 33.3
(8) Speed of business expansion A Priority on speed when expanding business 237 31.6
B More circumspect in expanding business 263 23.5
(9) Decision making style A Priority on top-down decision making 430 29.0
B Priority on bottom-up decision making 76 19.7

Notes: 1. *<.05 +<.1 (Chi-Square Independence Test).
2. The ratio of career self-reliance promoting companies in Group A and Group B were subjected to the test for items (1) to (9).

Is it possible that management policies affect companies’ attitude toward career self-reliance, even in light of other factors thought to go into determining the atiitude? The results of statistical analysis (Table 3) show that when controlling for conditions such as industry and number of regular employees, a stronger tendency to promote career self-reliance is correlated with a policy of boosting competitiveness by adding high value. As indicated in existing research and literature, we may infer that human resources pursuing autonomous career development underpin the core competence of companies offering high value. The analysis also shows that companies focusing on top-down decision-making are more likely to promote employees’ career self-reliance.

Table 3. Statistical analysis of the relationship between management policies and promotion of career self-reliance
  B Exp(B)  
Management policy      
Strengthen competitiveness through high quality 0.337 1.401 +
Focus on improving the quality of products and services 0.090 1.095  
Focus on maintenance of company size 0.192 1.212  
Do everything from development to production and sales in-house 0.041 1.042  
Establish business strategies according to existing human resources 0.074 1.077  
Focus on cultivating new business 0.300 1.349  
Focus on domestic market -0.183 0.833  
Focus on speed of business expansion 0.113 1.12  
Focus on top-down decision-making 0.456 1.577 *
Number of regular employees 0.000 1.000 *
Type of industry (reference group: manufacturing)      
 Construction 0.043 1.044  
 Information and communications 0.543 1.722  
 Transport and postal activities -0.036 0.964  
 Wholesale and retail trade 0.567 1.764  
 Medical, health care and welfare 0.298 1.347  
 Education, learning support -0.902 0.406  
 Services, N.E.C. 0.584 1.794  
Year of foundation (reference group: founded after 2000)      
 Founded before 1959 -0.349 0.705  
 Founded between 1960 and 1979 -0.714 0.490  
 Founded between 1980-1999 -0.237 0.789  
Head office located in Tokyo -0.126 0.882  
Constant -2.246 0.106 **
-2 log likelifood 403.563    
Nagelkerke R2 0.127    
N 380    

Notes: 1.**<.01 *<.05 +<.1
2. The explained variable is “whether or not companies promote self-reliant career formation among their employees,” with a dummy variable value of 1 when the answer is “yes” and 0 when the answer is “no.”
3. For the items listed under “Management policy,” the variable is assigned a value of 2 when the company’s strategy “closely approximates” a given policy, 1 when it “more or less approximates” the policy, and 0 when neither of these responses were obtained.
4. Enterprises that gave no response regarding explanatory variables and explained variables were excluded from the analysis.
5. Companies that listed their industry as “other” were excluded from the analysis.

It is possible that companies emphasizing top-down decision-making, while strengthening the decision-making power of top management, also seek to strengthen their involvement with and authority over their employees. However, in the statistical analysis shown in Table 3, there seemed to be a conflict of intention in the positive correlation between emphasis on top-down decision-making and emphasis on employee self-reliance. This could be an important point to keep in mind when considering the character of career self-reliance at Japanese companies.

This article is based on a survey of companies, and the intent and behavior of other actors, such as the employees themselves, are not readily apparent. Thus we should avoid excessive interpretation of the results, but judging solely on the basis of these analysis results, there is room for concern that under current circumstances, the career self-reliance being promoted at some companies could be “compulsory self-reliance” from the employees’ perspective. Career self-reliance is being promoted at many Japanese companies, but further analysis and examination are required with regard to how this policy functions and is perceived by the companies and the employees, and whom it benefits and in what manner.

Note 1. This article is an edited and supplemented version of part of the report delivered by the author at the Labor Policy Research Council, organized by the Japan Industrial Relations Research Association and held on June 18, 2017.

Note 2. This survey consists of three parts, a company survey, a managerial survey, and a general employee survey, and the results discussed herein are from the company survey. The company survey was administered to 9,854 private enterprises and corporations with over 300 employees in Japan, including those in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and compound services and excluding those related to politics, economics, religious organizations etc., with valid responses obtained from 531 organizations (valid response rate: 5.4%). For details of the survey results and their analysis, see Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training (2017).


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