TOKYO -- Japan's fashion retailers are increasingly turning to foreign nationals in an effort to capture demand from rising numbers of inbound tourists, with many being positioned as senior employee candidates that can support future overseas expansion.
Tokyo-based World Mode Holdings, which dispatches temporary staff to the apparel and cosmetics industries, has launched an initiative aimed at recruiting Taiwanese who want to work in Japan.
In addition to training, the company will help fund travel and provide housing support. It hopes to start dispatching Taiwanese staff to shops in the southern region of Kyushu and Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, by the end of this year.
World Mode will spend several weeks training these workers on the finer points of Japanese-style customer service and the basics of the fashion industry, with the aim of sending them to stores operated by luxury brands and apparel companies.
The hope is that well-drilled, knowledgeable staff will be able to help raise the brand image of the stores that hire them. The company claims hires like these can encourage overseas tourists to become long-term online customers.
This year, Fast Retailing, the company behind the Uniqlo brand, hired about 20 foreign graduates with a view to placing them in managerial roles. This comes in contrast to the majority of Japan's retailers, who typically hire foreigners to fill shortages on the shop floor, a symptom of the country's shrinking working-age population.
The company hopes its new recruits will be able to help drive up sales to foreign visitors to Japan and expand overseas operations.
The hires will be based in Japan and are on the regular payroll, in contrast to many staff in the industry, who are employed on temporary contracts. They represent about 10% of new graduates joining the company this year and will work across its brand portfolio, which also includes GU and Link Theory Japan.
A subsidiary of Miki Shoko, best known for its Miki House brand of children's clothing, this year hired 11 foreign graduates, about triple the figure of two years ago.
Foreign nationals represent about 20% of the graduates joining the company this year, and they will undergo the same training program as their Japanese colleagues. They will be assigned to posts outside Japan and trained for senior positions to lead the company's overseas expansion.
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, foreign visitors totaled 15.9 million in the first six months of this year, an increase of 16% from a year ago and the first time the January-June figure has exceeded 15 million.
But the country's retail industry has struggled to capitalize on the increased demand from tourists, largely because of the labor shortage.
"We want to open new outlets, but we can't secure the staff," said an apparel company insider.
The Japanese government in June announced a plan to introduce a new visa status that enables more of foreign nationals to work in the country.
Many clothing retailers are now looking to hire staff who can speak Chinese, English and other languages as a way to capture the opportunity created by inbound tourists. For many, this involves not just training foreign staff to work on the shop floor, but providing them with thorough knowledge of their brands and operations.