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International Foreign Students Association (IFSA), a Specified Non-Profit Corporation -The Pioneer of Job-Placement Assistance for Foreign Students-

IFSA Director Fujioka (L) and Ms. Kamimoto (R)

IFSA Director Fujioka (L) and Ms. Kamimoto (R),
the person responsible for job-placement
assistance information services.

This month's Close Up introduces the International Foreign Students Association (IFSA), a specified non-profit corporation.
For foreign students living in Japan, IFSA is a non-profit organization (NPO) that provides a wide variety of information, as well as conducting job-placement assistance activities, etc. Of the myriad of activities in which it is engaged, IFSA places special emphasis on its job-placement assistance services for foreign students . Contemporary Japan has evolved to the point whereby there are any number of career events, etc., that offer foreign student job-placement assistance, however, it was IFSA that pioneered this field. On this occasion, we spoke to Kazuyuki Fujioka, Director of IFSA; and Yoko Kamimoto, who is responsible for job-placement assistance information services, both about the environment confronting foreign students, and the "IFSA Job Forum for Foreign Students 2014", two briefing sessions held in conjunction with numerous companies that are planned for June in both Tokyo and Osaka.

Q.Please tell us how and why IFSA was established.

A.Mr. Fujioka:IFSA was established in 1989. Back then, the level of assistance for foreign students was rather weak. A group formed whose members' attitude was that something needed to be done as a way of responding to the contemporary status quo, and IFSA subsequently established its first office in one room of an apartment. At the time, the core membership were youngsters straight out of university, and we started out as a voluntary organization. I personally got involved because the person-in-charge was an acquaintance from university, and I started to participate some months after the initial establishment of IFSA. Everybody was contributing then without pay while working at other jobs, and we somehow managed to continue our grassroots activities. I suppose we achieved this because we were so young. These days, however, we have evolved to operating with fulltime staff. Concerning why we have been able to keep going, the truth is probably a combination of two factors. Firstly, needs exist which means that we cannot quit. Secondly, there is a sense on our part that we do not want to quit.

Q.There are approximately 137,000 foreign students currently in Japan. As a study destination, for what reasons do you feel these students have selected Japan?

A.Mr. Fujioka:Obviously, a major factor is that Japan is a leading industrial power with a highly-developed economy. Of course, the United States and the United Kingdom are popular study-abroad destinations, however, if you are talking about Asia, there is a certain sense that Japan is the study destination. Because of a lack of academic disciplines in their home country, some students select Japan in order to both study and to come into contact with the latest leading-edge research. Others, despite having matriculated to universities in their home country, feel that as "elite" members of society, they have a responsibility to make some form of societal contribution. Still others want to further improve their skills by studying in Japan. A more recent development is students who have grown up watching Japanese cartoons, with increasing numbers selecting Japan due to an interest in the nation's culture that has grown out of such exposure. Moreover, there is also the significant brand power of large Japanese businesses that are active on the global stage.

Q.Please tell us something about the environment that confronts foreign students.

A.Mr. Fujioka:Compared to the situation worldwide, I do not believe the environment confronting foreign students in Japan is especially poor. That being said, however, obviously the biggest hurdle is the Japanese language. There are also many unique customs which represent handicaps to be overcome if students are to come to Japan and live here. For example, an individual cannot easily rent an apartment themselves without there being somebody willing to stand as guarantor. Moreover, key money is required when renting an apartment. Then again, I feel there are also cases whereby, because issues such as study destinations, schools, accommodation and scholarships are resolved early on, it becomes a lot easier to study in Japan. Thus, because such environmental issues exist, it is necessary to have special support for foreign students.

Q.And you assist foreign students in a wide variety of ways?

Some articles featured in the Learning Newspaper can also be viewed on the IFSA website.

Some articles featured in the
"Kougaku Shimbun(Learning Newspaper)"
can also be viewed on the IFSA website.

A.Mr. Fujioka:Concurrent to the establishment of IFSA, we started a monthly publication called, "Kougaku Shimbun(Learning Newspaper)". This is distributed nationwide to universities, technical schools, Japanese language schools, and foreign student dormitories and accommodations, etc. In addition to articles of interest to foreign students, the paper also carries interviews with students and foreign luminaries, as well as business representatives. There are also sections set aside for highlighting the activities of Japanese people active on the global stage, and introductions to Japanese culture. Furthermore, we also distribute an email magazine that offers information to foreign students on academic exchanges and events, accommodation, scholarships, and part-time jobs, etc. Finally, what IFSA has put most effort into since its commencement in 1990 is our job-placement assistance activities.

Q.So you commenced job-placement assistance for foreign students because the existing levels of assistance were so weak?

A career information magazine for foreign students. It is full of information on job-hunting techniques and employment opportunities, etc.

A career information magazine
for foreign students.
It is full of information
on job-hunting techniques and
employment opportunities, etc.

A.Mr. Fujioka:That is definitely the case. Recently, emphasis has been placed on foreign students as "global human resources", and major recruiting companies, etc., are now also working hard on such matters. However, when we started our own activities, there were no Japanese companies at all working to bridge the gap with foreign students. Even if students attended the career advisory sections of universities, discussions ceased because there were "no employment opportunities for foreign students", or they would lose out to Japanese students when participating in mixed company visits and sitting corporate entry exams. Of course, there was the issue of language, but also because foreign students had less knowledge of Japan than Japanese people themselves, it was obviously very difficult for them to hope to win out when competing on the same playing field. More than this, however, to start with very few Japanese companies actually considered recruiting foreign students.

Q.So increased recruitment of foreign students is a recent phenomenon?

A.Mr. Fujioka:IFSA started job-placement assistance in the 1990s. Back then, the Chinese economy was not as open, and very few businesses were looking to employ Chinese students. In those days, the existing needs were from long-established, major Japanese manufacturers, who were looking for Southeast Asian students as part of strategies for the development and expansion of manufacturing in the region. Our own activities started with businesses looking for human resources that could act as bridges to the region, and also looking for candidates to act as local management. We were able to link these needs to foreign students from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The need for Chinese students started to grow halfway through the 1990s. These days, because of the issue of global human resources, the overall popularity of foreign students has increased due to the intelligence and the proactive personalities they display.

Q.And in more detail, in what ways do you offer job-placement assistance to foreign students?

A.Ms. Kamimoto:With the "Job-Placement Assistance Information Service" offered by IFSA, to foreign students who have registered as members, we email employment opportunities that match the language abilities and academic majors, etc., that they have registered with us. Registration is free, and we currently have about 13,000 people on file. During a year, we receive registrations from about 3,000 to 3,500 "new graduates". For students wanting jobs related to their own country, the reality is that it is very difficult to get hold of desired information via employment websites that cater from the general Japanese population. The IFSA service is widely used by foreign students because we can directly send information to them that is both targeted and matched. We also help with the correction of application forms of students applying for jobs, and we can also search out jobs that match the skill sets of particular students, as well as offering advice to them. Furthermore, foreign students who have registered as members can also participate in briefing sessions organized by IFSA, these are held in conjunction with numerous companies.

An enthusiastic employment forum for foreign students, with large numbers of participants from all over Japan.

An enthusiastic employment forum for foreign students, with large numbers of participants from all over Japan.

Q.And in June, you will be holding the "IFSA Job Forum for Foreign Students 2014", a briefing session held in conjunction with numerous companies.

IFSA外国人留学生就職フォーラム

A.Ms. Kamimoto:In Tokyo and Osaka, we hold briefing sessions in conjunction with numerous companies around 4 to 6 times a year. On each occasion, we have around 25 companies participating. That being said, however, at an event held in February of this year, we managed some 31 corporate participants. For each event we see about 600 to 700 foreign students, who gather from all over Japan. Talking about June for a moment, it is a time of year when generally-speaking, Japanese students are concluding their job searches. On the other hand, when foreign students commence their job searches is not fixed. Indeed, there are some who commence their search for employment just before our forum in June of each year. Moreover, the flow of time that accompanies job searches differs from that of Japanese students. There is also a trend towards more businesses specifically seeking to recruit "foreign students". From both the student and business perspective, there is a sense that June is a rather conducive time of year to engage in such activities.

Q.So are there increased numbers of foreign students who are hoping to work in Japan?

Many foreign students use career forums like that pictured to grasp job opportunities.

Many foreign students use career forums like
that pictured to grasp job opportunities.

A.Ms. Kamimoto:If you look at questionnaire data gathered at the briefing session held in conjunction with numerous companies in February of this year, on the question, "How long would you like to work in Japan?", "Forever" recorded the highest response rate of 30.2%. It was followed by "6 to 10 years" (18.3%) and "3 to 5 years" (18%). This indicated that the longer the time period, the greater the ratio of foreign students who selected it.

Q.What impressions have you drawn as a result of your contact with foreign students?

A.Mr. Fujioka:There is a strength of vitality and mentality. If you compare them to Japanese people, in relative terms, foreign students seem to have more pronounced drive and independence, they believe they can personally achieve results, and they want to blaze their own trail. At a minimum, their knowledge of their own country and of Japan means they see and imagine things with a more borderless mindset. I suppose this comes from my belief that foreign students are imperative for Japan's globalization.

Mr. Fujioka, "I would also like foreign students
to learn about Japanese culture".
Ms. Kamimoto, "I am stimulated by
the power of foreign students".

A.Ms. Kamimoto:Right at the moment, I am talking with a male Vietnamese student who is looking for a job. He has told me that he "really wants to join a certain company". I have been quite overwhelmed by the power of conviction with which he has put forward his arguments regarding his education and how much of a contribution he could make to the company in question. In that I receive many fervent inquiries from students who desire to work for companies where they can leverage both their experience and their abilities, and their conviction that certain jobs are ones that only they can do well, I must say that I am also stimulated by each interaction I have with such students.

Q.Please convey a message to both foreign students and our Japanese readers.

A.Mr. Fujioka:To foreign students who have decided on Japan as a study destination, I hope that in addition to learning about Japanese technology, they also learn something of the Japanese character and Japanese culture. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, people globally were both amazed and admiring of how the survivors behaved. To your Japanese readership, in order that such positive aspects of Japan are conveyed to people in other countries, I would ask that they possess a sense of pride in their identity when talking with others about such matters.