As a university teacher, I often hear students say that they are worried because they don’t know what they want to do in the future. I usually tell them two things: firstly, no one really knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives when they are in university, and those who think they do are often wrong. (I should know – I was one of them!)
The second thing is that there is really no point in worrying about what job they want to do because most people in Japan are never really given a choice. If you want to do a specific job like teaching, nursing, or driving a truck, it is possible for you to choose what you do, but most people just end up working for big companies where they are not given any choice at all.
I started thinking about this topic last week when I read an article on Japan Today that said high numbers of new employees are quitting Japanese companies soon after they start work. Some of these people were interviewed for the article, and one of the reasons they gave was that the companies made them do really low-level basic tasks even though they were highly qualified. On this point, I am on the side of the companies. I think it is very important that future managers and directors understand how the company works from the bottom up.
The other reason mentioned related to the fact that they had no choice in their career paths. One person said something like, “I am interested in marketing. I studied it in university, and I have always wanted to learn more about it and make it my profession, so I joined a marketing company. I told them at the interview what I wanted to do, and then when I joined, I found that I had been put in the accounts department.” This person was a graduate from a famous university, so he just quit. I admire his guts.
Japanese companies seem to have the idea that any person can do any job. They do not appear to make any attempt to match employees’ skills or interests to particular departments within the company, and they just move people around randomly with the tenkin system. I think there are two problems with this approach. Firstly, it is bad for the companies because they are not maximising the potential of their workers. Secondly, it is bad for the workers, because they are forced to spend years doing jobs in which they have no interest.
In Western countries, university graduates apply not to companies, but to specific departments of companies. For example, if someone is interested in marketing, they will apply to the marketing departments of several big companies. Even though they may change companies at some point in their career, they will probably not change the job that they do. That is why Western people say things like, “I’m in marketing” rather than saying what type of company they work for. It is also why “I am a salaryman” makes no sense in English as an answer to the question “What do you do?”
Anyway, I would like to know what all of you think about this. Have you had experience of it yourselves? Do you think Japanese companies are maximising the potential of their employees? If you have time, please read the JT article and share your opinions. You will see from the number of comments that it is something of a “hot topic” for foreigners living in Japan.
Look forward to hearing your thoughts.
P.S. This has nothing to do with the topic, but I have noticed an interesting word appearing in the British media recently. One problem with talking about sport has always been that we don’t know what to call people who do judo. They are not really “players,” so how should we refer to them? What I have noticed this year is that lots of the newspapers have started using the word “judoka” to fill that gap, so please feel free to use it when you speak English.