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Career Development Support Network for International Students (NAP) - Linking Together Students and Businesses Seeking Global Human Resources -

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NAP Director Yoshihiro Taguchi

January’s Close Up introduces the Career Development Support Network for International Students (NAP = New Active Players). The group is a volunteer organization that supports international students in their search for employment, with its members being retired business people who possess a wealth of international experience. NAP aims to assist international students in Japan who wish to pursue their careers domestically, the group’s hope being that such students shall become more and more active as they develop and mature further. In addition to providing students with accurate advice based upon the extensive experience and knowledge of NAP’s members, through its activities the group has also become widely trusted in both university and business circles. On this occasion, we spoke to NAP Director Yoshihiro Taguchi both about NAP’s activities and more generally about the employment situation for international students in Japan.

Q. Please tell me what led to the establishment of NAP.

A. NAP was established in 2008. As background, at that time more than half of all international students who wished to pursue a career in Japan were nevertheless returning to their home countries because they could not find employment opportunities here. Concurrently, numerous small and medium-sized businesses domestically were having trouble in their attempts to attract and recruit new graduates. Thus, on one hand there were international students who couldn’t find employment in Japan, while on the other there were domestic businesses who were not attracting many job applications (from Japanese students) despite their strong desire to employ new graduates. As such, various people started to consider as to whether or not something could be done to combine and address these issues. Furthermore, when we heard that Professor Satoru Suhara, who was then in charge of the International Center, The University of Tokyo, was fielding more and more consultations from international students who were trying to find career opportunities in Japan, it was decided that a support organization would be established. Additionally, as experienced older figures who could offer such students advice as to the true nature of Japanese business and issues related to working for domestic companies, it was decided to call on a number of very active business retirees. It was through such initiatives that NAP was established as a volunteer network of former business people who could assist international students in their securing of domestic employment.

Q. Please tell me about NAP’s activities.

A. NAP’s main activity is the individual employment consultation sessions that we conduct monthly. Recently, rather than consultation requests just coming from university students, we’ve begun to be contacted by international students at Japanese language and vocational schools as well. Until now, we have assisted more than 1500 international students with their searches for employment here in Japan. These students have come from 80 different countries and have studied at some 90 different Japanese universities. For the benefit of international students we conduct both corporate-information and job-interview sessions. Through invitations received from various universities and local municipalities, we also give lectures and speeches, as well as conduct seminars, on topics such as Japanese business practices and job-hunting. By engaging in such initiatives, we hope to increase awareness of NAP and expand the scope of our activities. Additionally, we have been commissioned by Kanagawa Prefecture to operate their “KANAFAN STATION” space. It is part of the prefecture’s “Kanagawa International Fan Club” initiative which aims to offer comprehensive support to international students living in the prefecture. We currently also hold many consultation sessions at the “KANAFAN STATION” space. Furthermore, I personally also work as the Deputy Center Manager of the Saitama Center for Go Global Students. That is a facility run by the International Association of Saitama Prefecture. Thus, NAP’s reach is extensive in that we are active in Saitama and Kanagawa Prefectures, as well as here in Tokyo.

Q. In supporting student’s job search activities, what are NAP’s strengths?

A. Commenting generally on university career centers, the reality is that it is difficult for them to assist those students who have been slow off the mark in commencing their job search activities, those students who are slightly older than average or those international students whose Japanese language skills might be lacking in some respect. By contrast, at the individual consultation sessions conducted by NAP, by taking time to discuss matters with students, we can identify areas in which an individual student might be lacking and then offer advice as a way of response. Conversely, we can also help students find what makes them attractive and what defines their strengths. We can then offer advice as to how to make such traits even more appealing to a potential employer. What NAP aims to do is to reduce the number of mismatches that occur between international students who want to work in the unique Japanese employment environment and those companies that might wish to hire them. We want as many international students as possible to look back on their coming to Japan and view it as a “positive experience.” Furthermore, we feel that achieving such outcomes represents the most effective means by which to convey the attractiveness of Japan to the wider world.

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At the regularly-held individual consultation sessions, former business people with a wealth of experience are on hand in order to kindly help students with their queries.
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Q. What hurdles exist for international students who seek to pursue a career in Japan?

A. The first issue I would identify is Japanese language proficiency. In particular, international students who come from areas of the world outside those regions in which kanji characters constitute part of the local language can experience a great deal of difficulty when it comes to improving their Japanese proficiency beyond a certain point, and this can result in hardships when searching for a job. Furthermore, in order to accommodate the needs of international students, there are more and more universities in Japan that offer courses where the language of instruction is English. However, when it comes time to look for employment, the students come to realize that there are only a very few companies in Japan where “English proficiency is acceptable for an applicant without the applicant also being able to understand Japanese.”
In particular, with respect to small and medium-sized companies within the domestic economy whose recruitment of international students is expected to increase in the future, the language issue is also a problem for the companies themselves. As such, it is a very rare occurrence for such employers to recruit international students who possess low levels of Japanese language proficiency. In other words, while there are more and more international students who want to pursue careers in Japan, and there is also an increasing latent demand forthcoming from employers to recruit such people, the reality is that there has not been much of an increase in the number of companies who are in a position to receive and accommodate such students.

Q. Do students also experience any difficulties that are unique to Japan?

A. As to the job search environment here in Japan, one unique trait is that students normally commence the process of looking for a job approximately a year and a half prior to when they are due to graduate from university. This tradition represents an especially high hurdle for international students. For example, imagine an international student who arrives in Japan and enrolls in a Master’s Program. Now, if that student wishes to pursue a career in Japan upon graduation, they basically have to start looking for a job roughly half a year after having arrived in the country. This is a major issue, because no matter how well a student has mastered the basics of the Japanese language in the time they have available, they will still find themselves at a major disadvantage in the employment stakes. Indeed, although they might make vast improvements in their Japanese language skills if they were given an additional six months’ leeway, because they have to commence looking for a job so quickly after arriving in Japan, such students are often unable to sufficiently state their case for employment to prospective employers. Furthermore, another issue is that international students tend to be aware only of famous large companies. Thus, when they repeatedly receive rejections based on their documentation alone, there tends to be a parallel loss of confidence.
Additionally, there are also problems with the attitude of Japanese companies when they are seeking to recruit people. In a continuance of outdated traditions, there are still companies who refuse to recruit international students unless they have graduated from Japanese universities. In other words, such companies are not interested in recruiting international students who graduated from university in their home country before attending a Japanese language or vocational school. In that there is such a great range of human resources available these days, I find such an attitude highly regrettable.

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NAP conducts seminars and symposiums nationwide.
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Q. What sort of international students are companies looking for?

A. I would answer that as follows: Companies tend to look for very gifted human resources who also have Japanese language skills. English proficiency can be another requirement, and in recent times as an added condition we have also seen preference being given to students from the ASEAN Region, etc., which represent markets that domestic businesses are eager to develop further. Indeed, among some companies who ended up recruiting international students because they had insufficient human resources on hand, we’ve also heard high praise that those they recruited represented “really good employees whose tenacity exceeded that of Japanese.” While there is a tendency for businesses to look at the resumes of international students and focus almost entirely on the university’s they graduated from and the applicants’ ages, it has to be remembered that some such students arrive in Japan from less economically-advantaged countries, they then hold down part-time jobs while studying Japanese, before entering a Japanese university based on their language skills at the time. Based on such a scenario, it is obvious that the applicants will be older. What is very regrettable is that such human resources might well be not recognized as being extremely gifted. Personally, we would really like to put such human resources into contact with potential employers.

Q. In your recent activities has anything in particular left an impression?

A. Last year we held our first job-interview event for Nepalese students studying in Japan. Indeed, as background I should say that the number of Nepalese students in Japan has greatly increased in recent years, with more than 10,000 now studying at Japanese universities, Japanese language and vocational schools, etc. As to such Nepalese students, they benefit from a high level of education in their home country, and their personality also tends to be both honest and hard-working. Additionally, they also enjoy a good reputation among both Japanese language schools and university academics. Unfortunately, however, awareness of them as being great human resources isn’t very high. As such, along with some members of the Nepalese Association in Japan, we planned an event that would raise the profile of these gifted students. The event would also give us the opportunity to help any students whose job search preparations were insufficient. On the day of the event, we had 290 students participate along with some 17 companies, with the positive atmosphere of the proceedings being in excess of what we had expected. From among the companies who participated, we received very positive feedback with numerous businesses commenting that “our eyes have been newly opened to the possibilities presented by Nepalese human resources.”

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The Nepalese student and job interview event held along with members of the Nepalese Association in Japan welcomed many participants.
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Q. What, if any, are your plans for the future?

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A. I would really like to further strengthen our cooperation with universities, Japanese language and vocational schools. By having businesses better understand the situation of international students, I would like to change, even just a little, their attitude towards recruiting such gifted human resources. Furthermore, for international students who wish to pursue a career in Japan, I would like to continue supporting them through various means such as the undertaking of seminars and lectures within educational institutions and local municipalities so that they could become more quickly acquainted with how job-seeking activities are undertaken in Japan. Finally, rather than blindly increasing international student numbers, I believe that it is necessary to create a framework so that truly gifted students can have the opportunity to study in Japan. I would like to participate in preparing such a framework.