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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Japan: Older Workers Moving to China?

Eddie writes from Spore:

I’ve attached an article that I thought was pretty interesting. A reverse labour flow - older workers to younger countries. If we had an even flow in either direction, it would really breakdown ethnic barriers. Imagine Shanghai having as many Japanese as Tokyo had Chinese. That would balance out the demographics in the 2 cities. There was a story a month back about a Singaporean private collage looking to employ ‘retired’ teachers and civil servants to teach in China. But right now, the balance of flow is of course one-sided. Growth attracts more growth. And the stagnant economies just see a hollowing out.

Japanese job-seekers heading to China

Older Japanese workers with skills and experience but who have lost their jobs at home are turning to work in China
By Kwan Weng Kin

TOKYO - Shanghai-based human resources executive Sun Liping, 40, has a dream. He wants to boost the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturing companies in his native Shanghai, and hopes to do so by matching them with veteran Japanese workers who have the skills to share. Mr Sun, president of human resources firm Shanghai Chuangjia Consulting, knows the situation in Japan well, having studied here in the early 1990s. 'Shanghai's economic development has been very rapid. Some companies in our manufacturing sector are now very good but many are still far behind the Japanese,' Mr Sun told The Straits Times in a telephone interview. 'On the other hand, many Japanese middle managers, product development experts and so on are losing their jobs due to corporate restructuring. So there are Chinese companies which can benefit from their expertise. 'My company can help bring the two sides together.'

Fortunately for Mr Sun, there has been a steady number of Japanese in their 40s and 50s seeking second careers in China. As the percentage of jobless in Japan continues to hover around 5 per cent, China presents bright prospects for older Japanese workers forsaken by their employers. By last April, Mr Sun had received the details of some 1,400 Japanese job seekers, 70 per cent of whom have experience in the manufacturing sector, his main target. PaHuma Asia, a Japanese job placement firm headquartered in Hong Kong, has also seen a leap in applications from Japanese for jobs on the Chinese mainland. According to PaHuma's Tokyo office, 42 per cent of Japanese registered with it want to work in China. PaHuma also attests to the growing number of job opportunities in China for Japanese workers, not only in China-based Japanese companies but also in Chinese firms.

Ms Tomoko Hata, manager of PaHuma's Tokyo office, said: 'In the year ended August 2003, 35 per cent of our available positions were for jobs in China.' Most were in sales or technical fields. A survey released in May last year by the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro) noted that while Japanese companies were trimming expatriate staff throughout East Asia, they were hiring more Japanese personnel on local terms, particularly in China and Asean.
And while job placement agencies saw less demand for Japanese workers in Singapore and Hong Kong, they were dispatching more veteran Japanese workers to China and Thailand, said Jetro. Statistics compiled by the Japanese Foreign Ministry show that the number of Japanese residents in China has been rising in recent years, totalling nearly 38,000 as of October last year. Although technology industry workers draw higher salaries in Japan, the lower cost of living in China means they can live comfortably on their Chinese pay packets and still have ample savings. But as Mr Sun pointed out, problems in hiring Japanese go beyond monthly salaries. 'There are often language problems, issues with food and housing, even pensions. But we hope to be able to solve them,' he said. The Sars crisis earlier this year was also a major setback. 'We were unable to arrange interviews in China,' said Mr Sun. With Sars on the wane, he is looking to go full speed ahead to bring to Shanghai companies the Japanese talent they need to compete.

A report last year by chinanews.com said there was a shortage of personnel in the Shanghai area among the 20-to-40 age group who were familiar with leading technology.To plug the gap, Chinese companies are said to be willing to pay monthly salaries ranging from 20,000 yuan (S$4,200) to 50,000 yuan for a Japanese expert.This is several times what they would pay Chinese workers.Many companies have been able to attract workers previously at Japanese blue-chip firms, particularly in the electronics sector, which has shed thousands of jobs over the past few years through early-retirement schemes.Although such workers draw far higher salaries in Japan, the lower cost of living in China means they can live comfortably on their Chinese pay packets and still have ample savings.

Funnily enough this is something I often discuss with my wife. Spain in ten years time will be one of the oldest countries on the planet. In a society where everyone is old, the premium will be on young people, older people will, almost inevitably be less respected. That, in part explains why so many companies want to recycle their over 50 workforce. In contrast, those societies where there are still a disproportionately large number of young people (just sufficient, not tooooo many) will need the experience of older people, older people will be more valued and respected. Apart from relieving the burden on the welfare system (ironically, in a slightly poorer, but younger society, hospitals may be fewer in number, but access may be easier) it may be a good practical proposition for those over 55 who find themselves prematurely 'released' from their obligations in the west to recycle themsleves, and start a new life in one of the younger 'developing' economies. Apart from anything else, with the internet to accompany you, it might feel just like home.

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