These institutions also offer continuing education courses open to
anyone. Special training schools may be established by the national
government, local government, or a private individual. Almost 90 percent
They offer a wide range of opportunities for skill acquisition in the
fields of engineering, agriculture, medical care, nursing, health,
commerce, home economics, and culture/liberal arts. Many of these
courses are closely linked to the student's meeting occupational
qualifications and certification.
The number of special training institutions has grown rapidly. In
1985, 3,015 such schools had a total enrollment of 538,000.
Approximately three-fourths of their students are enrolled at the
postsecondary level. According to a 1981 survey conducted by the Japan
Recruit Center, 65 percent of the 5,200 firms surveyed expressed a
desire to recruit from these schools. The record to date indicates that
they are filling an important need for both graduates and employers.
Miscellaneous schools (kakushu gakko). These
institutions provide vocational or practical training in such areas as
bookkeeping, typing, automotive repair, computer techniques,
dressmaking, and cooking. Courses are offered at both upper secondary
and postsecondary levels and vary greatly in length. In 1985 there were
4,300 miscellaneous schools, almost all private. They enrolled about
530,000 students, nearly half of them female.
Junior colleges. Junior colleges provide both general
education and vocational education courses, although primarily for women
who, as indicated earlier, make up 90 percent of the enrollment. More
than one-third of the students are in general education
courses-humanities, social science, and general culture. The single most
heavily enrolled vocational field is home economics, basically
homemaking, which enrolls about 27 percent of all students. Other
vocational areas include teacher education, with about 22 percent of
enrollments, and engineering, agriculture, and health, which together
account for 10 percent of enrollments. Teachers trained in junior
colleges find most of their employment at the preschool level.
Statistical summary. In 1984, more than 2.7 million students
were enrolled in the five categories of institutions. More than half of
them were in upper secondary schools and 68 percent of the total
enrollment was in programs at the upper secondary level.
The number of technical colleges, special training schools, and
miscellaneous schools in 1985 is shown in
1, together with the distribution by administrative category
(national, local public, and private). The 1985 enrollment in each of
these three types of institutions and the percentage distribution of
enrollment by gender and control are shown in
13. Enrollments at upper secondary and postsecondary levels in the
five types of institutions offering vocational and technical programs
are given in
Work preparation outside the school system
Post-compulsory vocational training is also offered outside the formal
education system. Programs of Japan's large companies are of special
significance. Although these companies make up only half of 1 percent of
the total number of companies in Japan, they employ over one-fourth of
the work force and produce nearly 50 percent of the nation's GNP.
The education and training they provide is designed to enhance the
productivity and flexibility of their work force, particularly in
meeting the changing demands of the marketplace and the national
economy. Their investment in education and training is long term; it
appears to increase during recessions.
Undergirding the formal and informal training provided by companies
is management's view that employees have an obligation to develop
themselves, often on their own time. However, employers' definition of
what constitutes self-development is broad, ranging from attending
public seminars to reading professional journals. Although
self-development is not mandatory, employees know that their supervisors
place a great deal of emphasis on it and will weigh employee efforts of
this sort in the annual evaluation process.
Besides the various training programs of private employers, Japan has
a national vocational training law with provisions for both public and
private enterprises. Under it, the government provides a variety of
incentives including training allowances for the unemployed, financial
assistance to small and medium size firms, incentive grants for paid
educational leave, and advisory and institutional services.
Through the Ministry of Labor, the government also sponsors basic
training, skill improvement training, retraining for new occupations,
and instructor training. In 1981 there were approximately 3,000 courses
offered in about 400 public training centers for some 300,000 students.
Yet, this program has not been particularly successful in attracting job
seekers who want to learn new skills, largely because employers have not
recruited heavily from these programs.
Transition from secondary school to work
There are three main points of transition into employment for
non-university bound youth: at the completion of compulsory education,
i.e. after 9th grade; at the completion of upper secondary school
(equivalent of high school graduation in the United States); and at the
completion of occupational training at the postsecondary level.
Only about 3 percent of students begin work directly upon completion
of compulsory education. Such students have no vocational or
occupational training. Among high school graduates, however, 40 percent
enter the labor force directly, while about 55 percent go on to some
kind of postsecondary education or training and about 5 percent are
5. A major factor in the smooth transition of students from
secondary school to work is an effective job referral system.
This system is based on cooperation and trust between employers,
schools, and the Public Employment Security Office (PESO) operated by
the Ministry of Labor. It relies as well on the confidence of students
in their teachers, advisors, and counselors. The underlying goal of the
system is to minimize unemployment by giving every student a chance to
be employed. A strong national economy with a continuing need for
additional manpower during the past few decades has made the high
employment rate possible.
The employment services system has its legal basis in the Employment
Security Law of 1947. The underlying principle is that job placement
assistance for youth should be supplied only by PESO and other nonprofit
organizations, including schools. (This orientation stems from prewar
experience with youth exploitation by various commercial forces.) Direct
communication is prohibited between a company offering positions and
high school students seeking employment. Actual contacts between them
can only be made by PESO or by schools and other nonprofit
organizations. In practice, because of the large number of high school
graduates and other demands upon PESO, the responsibility for
maintaining contact with companies and assisting high school students in
their search for employment is borne mainly by the schools.
The process begins with companies determining their manpower needs
and preparing a recruitment card for each job to be filled. The card
describes the job, the company, and the terms and conditions of
employment. The card is reviewed by PESO for compliance with applicable
standards, including wages and benefits. Cards approved by PESO are then
used by the schools as the basis for job referral assistance. Many
companies also send representatives to visit the schools and meet with
placement counselors, but not with the students.
The schools devote much effort to placing students in suitable
positions. They maintain placement offices where students can review the
recruitment cards and other information on employers. Full-time or
part-time placement counselors consult students about their job
preferences and assist them in preparing personal histories, advise them
on how to behave during interviews, and even conduct mock company
entrance examinations and interviews. If two or more students at a
school are interested in the same position at a company, the school
staff confers and decides which students will apply in which order to
take the company's examination. In making such a decision, the staff
considers not only grades, but also the number of times a student has
been absent and tardy, as well as other behavioral characteristics of
importance to an employer. By mid-August the internal selection process
in the school is completed.
Beginning in September of the April-March school year, 12th grade
students submit their applications to the companies. Company entrance
tests cannot legally be taken until October, and no employment decisions
may be made until that time. The test may include a written examination,
an IQ test, a physical examination, and an interview or some combination
of these. Companies pay attention to grooming, general appearance,
personality, and school records. Club participation is also considered
important in many cases because similar group relationships exist in
certain company situations.
By mid-November most students have found employment. According to a
recent study, boys have an easier time than girls in being hired into
good jobs directly out of high school.
Others whose initial applications were not successful are in the process
of taking second or third company entrance examinations. The school
continues to help students find jobs until the end of May, about 2
months after graduation. After that time, schools are prohibited from
aiding students in their search for jobs. But by then the great majority
have become employed. The rest continue the search on their own.
The employment process serves as both a learning and motivational
experience for secondary school students. It provides a potent signal to
all that by remaining within the school system the student has a better
chance to get a job upon completion of his or her studies.
The program provides most students with useful and accurate
information about specific jobs and with active assistance in the job
search process. But schools do not feel any obligation to recommend a
student whose record has not met the school's standards of academic
performance and behavior, including attendance and punctuality.
Generally speaking, students who choose not to participate in the system
are likely to end up in less satisfactory jobs, often temporary ones at
The system is generally effective in placing non-college bound youth
in their first jobs within a few months after graduation. Among the
factors contributing to its success are active involvement of employers;
a common commitment and mutual trust among schools, employers, and PESO;
reliable information exchange among the participating parties; clarity
of mission and concentration of effort; focus on entry level jobs for
young people with limited skills; and emphasis on opportunities in small
Employers are well aware of the status ranking of high schools and
they compete to recruit from the top ranked institutions. Career
counselors try to send their best students to the most desirable
employers in order to maintain the reputation and placement records of
their schools. The personal networks that link business personnel
officers and school teachers and guidance personnel make their own
contribution to the placement process in a fashion analogous to what
occurs en route to higher education and subsequent employment for
Transition from postsecondary education to work
Graduation from universities, as in the rest of the education system,
takes place in March, but by agreement between the universities and
employers the recruitment process officially begins the previous
October. In years when economic prospects are bright and there is heavy
demand for university graduates, the process begins even earlier.
Prospective graduates may apply to companies directly, through a
university placement office, or through personal connections. The
procedure used varies according to the department or faculty in which a
student is enrolled, the status of the university he or she attends, the
availability of university placement services, and the personal
connections of family, friends or faculty mentor.
PESO is not a significant factor in placing university graduates, but
there is a special public program to facilitate job search for
university graduates who desire employment outside large urban areas.
For this purpose, the Ministry of Labor and the prefectural governments
operate 54 public placement offices throughout the country.
While direct application by students to employers is becoming common,
the traditional pattern of direct employer to university faculty or
department contact continues to be dominant where prestigious
institutions, companies, and fields are concerned.
For example, when a major company seeks an engineering graduate from
a top university, the company frequently taps its special connections
with faculty members in that institution. This has the advantage of
assuring the company that the student recommended is well-qualified,
since the sponsoring professor does not want to damage his connections
with the company, and that the student will accept the position offered
because the student traditionally has a strong, continuing obligation to
his professor. In contrast, social science and humanities majors are
more apt to apply directly to prospective employers or to work through
university placement offices where they exist. Even when the more
prestigious employers are willing to be approached by students directly,
they may restrict acceptance of applications to graduates of particular
universities or to specific academic units within a university.
Public universities seldom operate their own placement offices, but
private universities often have active ones. The placement office
screens the graduates, matching them by quality and quantity to a
company's request. If the number and quality of referrals a company
receives do not meet its needs, the company may not recruit from that
university in the future. This is a serious matter for private
universities whose reputations - and enrollments-are largely based on
their success in placing graduates in good firms. It is at least as
serious for the individual student whose choices for future employment
are being determined by an institutional middleman.
Employers can initiate direct contact with college students on
October 1 and begin their recruitment examinations November 1. The
applicant is almost always given a written examination and an interview,
but a detailed assessment of the student's professional knowledge is not
particularly important to a company. The company believes it can judge
the caliber of a potential employee by knowing which university he
attended. In any case, the company expects to provide its own on-the-job
training for all new employees. The purpose of the written test is to
determine the extent of the applicant's knowledge of general information
and current events. The interview is used to assess the applicant's
personality, motivation, leadership potential, appearance, attitude
towards business, and how well he will fit in with company culture and
the other employees.
For most students, the company examination and interview are
basically rituals that confirm decisions reached earlier as a result of
a visit to the company the student may have made the previous summer or
fall. It is not uncommon for students to visit several firms during the
summer. The better candidates often receive informal confirmation of
employment offers shortly after such visits.
There is intense competition for the best students, who often receive
offers from several companies. Competition does not involve much
difference in salary level but, rather, revolves more around the
student's perception of the relative prestige and lifetime employment
prospects of competing employers. Selection of the first employer is as
important as selection of university, because after employment there is
little opportunity for mobility between companies of comparable prestige
in the same, or even in different, industries.
In 1985, over three-fourths of the prospective graduates had been
informally notified by November 1 by the firms that would make them
offers. By the end of November, 95 percent of the students have received
firm employment offers.
The majority of graduates recruited into large companies for lifetime
careers generally come from the national universities or the most
prestigious private institutions. University graduates going into small
and middle-sized companies come primarily from the newer private
institutions. A recent study effectively summarized the direct linkage
between top ranked universities and companies: "If one desires a
career in an excellent company, one first has to be admitted to a
prestigious university. Thus labor market competition is transformed
into college entrance competition."
The transition to work for graduates of postsecondary institutions
other than universities is similar in range and diversity to the pattern
for universities. For example, placement services are normally available
in technical colleges as well as in special training colleges. There are
various patterns of direct contact between and among students,
companies, and institutions. There is direct recruitment by companies in
some situations as well as widespread individual student initiative in
job search. Contacts through personal networks or those of family and
friends often play a key role in preferred access to employment
Role of employers
Employers play significant roles in education. They establish and
maintain the value of education credentials through their employment
policies and recruitment practices. Credentials, based essentially on
the general reputation of the institution granting them rather than on
the specific nature and caliber of the student's academic work, are
utilized as a screening device. This is true not only for employment by
the more prestigious companies, but also for most kinds and levels of
positions in the public and private sectors.
Given the essentially linear and unforgiving nature of Japanese
education and credentialism--with few alternative routes and second
chance career opportunities (except to retake university entrance
examinations)--the career prospect die is largely cast for the great
majority of students when they enter high school.
Employers have been satisfied with the examination and credentials
system because in their experience it effectively identifies employees
who have demonstrated a high level of intellectual ability, diligence,
and motivation. An example of recent confirmation of this concept is
found in a 1983 survey conducted by the Hitachi Research Institute.
The results showed that 83 percent of management and 66 percent of union
respondents believed that the existing system of recruiting university
graduates would not be changed.
As noted earlier, large companies also provide extensive on-and
off-the-job training for their employees. Most middle-sized companies
and many of the smaller ones also furnish some measure of training. The
point is that employees are kept up-to-date through company training
programs, not through part-time study at postsecondary education
Finally, employers identify and articulate their needs so that the
education system can respond to them. A .major example of such
responsiveness has been the creation of the special training schools to
meet skilled manpower needs.
In Japan, the relationship between education and the economy appears
to be closer and more effective than in most other industrialized
nations. Japan does a very effective job of providing a flexible and
productive labor force for its economy, in large part because of the
pivotal roles played by a high level of basic education, disciplined
work habits, and group cohesiveness--all school based or fostered.
Indeed, the remarkable performance of the Japanese economy over the past
25 years provides compelling testimony to the fundamental contributions
that education can make to national development and international
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U.S. Dept. of Education Study