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Business trends

Japan's construction sector tries to defy demographics with data

New database aims to improve working conditions and attract new recruits

Construction is one sector where Japan's labor shortage has become acute.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Blue-collar workers can afford to be picky when considering job prospects thanks to Japan's historically tight labor market. That means few enter construction, where the hours are long and the pay is relatively low.

The Fund for Construction Industry Promotion, a trade association, has a plan to draw more laborers to the business. In April it will roll out a new database that will aggregate workers' experience and qualifications to help match them with employers. In addition to smoothing out personnel transactions, the system's creators believe it will lead to better pay and working conditions.

Construction has been particularly hard-hit by Japan's labor shortage. Manufacturing, which offers higher pay and shorter working hours, attracts more workers.

The construction sector's problem will only worsen as Japan's population ages. A government study projects the country's workforce to shrink 20% by 2040, and few young people are eager to join the trade.

The new database is expected to help workers employed by low-level subcontractors who are stuck with low pay and few benefits.

These laborers often sign up for temporary, irregular work, making it difficult for other employers to evaluate their expertise. With all of their experience accumulated in one place, companies will be able to actively recruit talented workers at higher pay. Better wages may also help attract younger recruits.

"This system is a great opportunity to get more young workers into the industry," said Takashi Ueda, who overseas the construction site of an office building in Tokyo.

55 different specialties will be recorded in the system, so if there is a regional shortage of scaffolders, specialists from another area could look for jobs there.

"If we can gather a lot of data, benefits may emerge that we hadn't even thought of," said a manager of the database at the trade association.

The system, which is currently operating on a trial basis, has already registered about 17,000 workers. The association hopes to have 1 million registered within the first year of operation, and all of the industry's roughly 3.3 million workers within 5 years.

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