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Business

Bosses in Japan eager to invest in workers, but not through higher pay

Survey finds most top executives hesitant to raise wages 3% despite growing economy

Corporate Japan is wary of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's calls to raise pay 3% next year.

TOKYO -- With staff getting harder to come by, nearly 60% of top executives at major Japanese companies are inclined to invest more in training and educating personnel in fiscal 2018, according to a Nikkei Inc. survey.

Yet despite the widespread sense that the economy is growing, fewer than 10% of respondents said their company planned to raise wages by the 3% target encouraged by the government. Where they land on the issue could greatly sway consumption trends.

The quarterly survey drew responses from 142 presidents, chairmen and other leaders at major corporations from Nov. 22 through Monday.

Asked about plans to invest in personnel in fiscal 2018, 21.8% said they would spend more than in fiscal 2017, while 36.7% said they would be more likely than not to spend more, for a total of 58.5%. Of those, 45.8% said they aimed to spur innovation, and 33.7% to raise productivity.

Yet top managers remain cautious about raising base monthly pay. Regarding negotiations with labor in the spring, just 9.2% of respondents said their planned increases fell into the target 3% range. Some 19.7% said they would not consider any increases in 2018. Only 4.9% said they would lift pay by more than in 2017.

With domestic capital investment rising and the global economy strong, managers are growing more upbeat about Japan's economy. Some 87.3% of respondents said the economy was expanding mildly, and 2.1% that it was expanding, for a total of 89.4%, the greatest level of optimism in two and a half years.

The effects of a shrinking labor force played into a desire to increase investment in personnel. Staffing shortages are getting worse, particularly in the service sector. Of those polled, 41.5% said they felt understaffed.

But as technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics continue to replace human laborers, such shortages look increasingly likely to give way to an overabundance of workers eventually. Asked to predict staffing conditions five years down the road, 10.6% said they would have excess personnel. Megabank Mizuho Financial Group has already announced plans to cut thousands of jobs.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said possible responses to staffing surpluses include reducing nonregular employment, while 40% said cutting down on outsourcing.

Investment in labor-saving measures is growing, from the factory floor to the back office. "A shift toward jobs that demand a high level of creativity is inevitable, as is skill acquisition," said Masahiro Okafuji, president of trading house Itochu.

(Nikkei)

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