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The rising infrastructure development in Japan has led companies to innovate to attract more foreign workers to high-paying jobs and other benefits. Online construction labor services and apps provide the channel for these companies to reach their goals in the highly competitive industry through aggressive recruitment of prospective employees.
Japan’s need for foreign workers to further bolster this growing construction industry alone reached some 55,000 foreigners by the later part of 2017, an increase of 400% from that of 2012. However, some institutional or legal constraints prevent the alleviation of the dire need for more foreign labor to impel Japan’s march to even higher economic prosperity.
※ Official Website of Nikkei Asian Review, Japan's construction sites seek to be foreigner-friendly workplaces
Many Japanese companies are addressing the problem through increased use of robots to perform menial jobs, especially heavy manual jobs such as carrying and transporting material and installing ceilings which can be done at night in preparation for the next day’s activities. This innovative solution has, ironically, kicked up capital expenditures and is boosting economic prospects in the industry. Still, the need for human labor remains the main issue that has led these companies to source out more workers from abroad.
This concern came into greater focus within the last few years with the construction boom brought about by Japan’s hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Knowing how commerce and trade normally follow in the wake of such international sports or trade exhibits, Japan now has its hands full in making the most out of bright opportunities opening for its infrastructure plans.
One reason for the lag in recruiting foreign labor is that of the limited time these workers are allowed to reside in Japan, mostly only 3 years up to a maximum of 5 years. Although a law passed in 2015 allowed returning workers another 2 to 3 years, there is still a need for new legislation that will address the labor deficit and allow foreign workers to work longer in Japan.
Another reason for the growing deficit of construction workers in Japan is the fact that the population is growing old as people 60-year-old and above (who make up one-fourth of the nation’s population) can no longer provide the necessary muscle power to sustain the time-and-labor-intensive inputs required for infrastructure projects. On the other hand, the percentage of young people below 30 only accounts for one-tenth of the total population. This concern has led some companies to lessen the workweek to 5 days, allowing them to rest on Saturdays, aside from Sundays. The move hopes to attract younger workers into the labor market.
Moreover, with new technology providing faster and more efficient methods of fast-tracking installation and renovation works, there is a serious need for older workers to learn how to adapt to these new methods of doing things. Training a whole bunch of workers will often require stalling project timetables to enable the workers to catch up, aside from the added expenditures in reeducation involved. This was the lesson learned by Tokyo Construction Co. during the renovation of Tokyo Metro Ginza Line’s station in Shibuya. Using 3D simulation, the company eliminated disrupting train operations on weekends and minimized construction timetable and cost issues.
One positive step taken by companies seeking foreign workers is providing equal pay in relation to Japanese nationals, more days off from work and the hiring of more part-time workers. This will include, as mentioned, the involvement of more young workers. With the introduction of more and more robots and AI-run equipment, apps and systems into the workplace in the future, the number of workers can also be slightly reduced while increasing efficiency and quality of work. The added benefit is that the workers themselves will gain valuable skills and, likewise, be freed from doing burdensome, strenuous or repetitive tasks. Young and unskilled workers can provide the manpower for these innovative tasks.
There is also a greater need for companies to actively seek reprieve or concessions from the national leaders for lenience and parity afforded to foreigners applying for and holding jobs in Japan as construction workers. Immigration and foreign labor laws may have to be enacted, for instance, to allow foreign workers to take more but shorter home-vacation leaves, aside from the weekly or monthly off of work.
Aside from equalizing pay within the average Japanese salary standards, companies may also consider providing compensation and benefits that are competitive with other countries that hire foreign labor, such as those in the Middle East, Europe, and America. Although many companies are already taking this into consideration, there might be a need to establish a national standard in order to give impetus for more foreign applicants to consider Japan as a prime market for lucrative jobs in construction.
Tapping non-Japanese managers to attract more foreign construction workers may also help in boosting hiring of more foreign workers, if not groups or whole construction outfits which may have the expertise, experience or technical capability to deliver at-par construction works based on Japanese standards or specifications. This could be a potential step toward alleviating the present labor deficit; however, it is one that needs looking into, especially in fields where foreign expertise puts added-value to the Japanese life, culture and economy, such as in the service or entertainment sectors.
As long as training or technical standards can be attained by these workers or groups, there should be no great issue as to its merits as one potential way of solving the present labor crisis. This, however, requires a thorough national debate or search for a consensus as it may pose undue and even unwelcome competition to local interests. In the long run, whatever benefits the general welfare of Japan today through global economic cooperation will also be a boon to the coming generations.
Japan is at the crossroads of its being a glorious and prosperous economic leader in the present and its future role as an innovator, as well as a technological and economic partner with the rest of the expanding and growing nations of the world. The great strides Japan has achieved and shared with the rest of the world count as one of the most admired and beneficial gifts it has given other countries. As it seeks to address present challenges, it will no doubt be in a better position than ever to offer solutions that will not only bring about its own good but also that of others.
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