JILPT Research Eye
Supporting Youth: Looking Back on the Last 15 Years

May 25, 2018
(Originally published January 22, 2018 in Japanese)

Yukie HORI

Senior Researcher, Department of Career Development

Around 15 years have passed since the formulation of the 2003 “Youth Independence and Challenge Plan” [Wakamono jiritsu chōsen puran]. The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training (JILPT) has been accumulating research on the transition of young people from education to employment since the time of its predecessor, the Japan Institute of Labor, and has therefore built up as much as 30 years of research regarding the employment of young people. Particularly since the transition from education to employment began to become unstable in the mid-1990s, the JILPT has drawn on its empirical research to continuously advocate the importance of policy-based support.

It took a significant amount of time for the problems related to the employment of young people to be recognized as social issues. With the legal foundations provided by the Act for the Promotion of Youth Employment, it seems that today, 15 years later, the necessity for support for younger people has gathered certain recognition in society. It appears that the major problems are considered to have been solved, given the fact that the employment of new graduates has maintained the high levels it reached during the bubble economy, allowing young people to make a smooth transition from education to employment. At present, the quantitative indicators are considerably stable on a macro scale. However, if we step back from the current conditions and take another look, “The Survey on the Working Style of Young People,” implemented by the JILPT every five years since 2001, reveals several qualitative issues.

Firstly, there are the changes in the composition of the young labor force due to the significant numbers of young people gaining higher academic qualifications than previously typical. In general, it is rare for there to be a perfect match in such rises in people with higher academic qualifications on the labor supply side and the needs on the labor demand side. In the 1960s, when the supply side shifted from lower secondary school (junior high school) graduates to upper secondary school (high school) graduates, companies were compelled to make major changes to their personnel management. The period of recession in the first half of the 2000s generated a considerable number of unemployed university graduates, and, with the further increase in the number of young people gaining higher academic qualifications, it is still uncertain whether it will continue to be possible to smoothly absorb the young workforce into the labor market.

Secondly, despite the prosperous business conditions, there has been little progress in ensuring that “freeters” (young people who take atypical employment) make the transition to regular employment. While there has been a decrease in the percentage of people who have at one point been a freeter, there has been relatively little increase in the percentage of people able to stop working as a freeter and become a regular employee. There are several conceivable explanations for this. In particular, it may be the case that while the conditions for securing employment are improving, a high percentage of the young people who become freeters are people with significant challenges, or that the reasons why young people become freeters are changing along with the increased tendency to acquire high academic qualifications.

Thirdly, there are the changes in the reasons for leaving employment at an early stage. While it is normal for there to be a high percentage of young people leaving employment early, given the common tendency for people to try things out while they are young, in recent years there has been a decrease in the percentage of people leaving employment at an early stage. At the same time, although in the past the main reason for leaving employment at an early stage was related to how the work suited the worker, an increasing percentage of people are citing labor conditions as the reason for leaving employment at an early stage. Data gathered in “The Survey on the Working Style of Young People” is not sufficient to confirm whether the labor conditions of younger people are in fact declining or whether this is a relative rise in the numbers of people citing labor conditions due to advances in how people are matched with work along with the improvement in the conditions for securing employment. It will therefore be necessary to conduct further research and analysis.

Fourthly, there is the fact that the former generation of young people—those known as the generation of the “employment ice age”—have reached middle and old age and can therefore no longer be referred to as younger people. It is now time to start addressing how to support the quantitatively significant population of former young people who have grown older without gathering work experience, as opposed to having work experience but failing for some reason to secure steady work like previous generations of middle and old age people. The question is whether this should be treated as an extension of the support for the younger generation, or support for middle and old age people.

The fifth issue is the increasingly emerging problem of the economic independence of single women in non-regular employment. As this was previously considered to be solved by such women getting married, it has started to present itself as an issue due to the increasing numbers of men and women not getting married. It also becomes more difficult for non-regular employees to switch to regular employment the older they become. The question of how to approach support for single women in non-regular employment is likely to become one of the key issues in the future.

When the “Youth Independence and Challenge Plan” was formulated in 2003, there were highly enthusiastic expectations surrounding support for younger people. 15 years on, as policy support for younger people matures, we need to consider what has been achieved and what has fallen by the wayside in the last 15 years. Given the current prosperity of the economy, it has become ever more necessary to go back to the starting line and readdress such issues.

  • JILPT Research Report No.199 “The divergence in employment behavior and stance toward employment among young people in the metropolitan area: Drawing on data from “The Fourth Survey on the Working Style of Young People.”
  • Labor Policy Forum “Considering the qualitative changes in the employment of young people: Shifts in the ways of working of young people as the economy recovers” (Held on January 23 (Tue.), 2018)