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Business trends

Shortage of science grads vexes Japanese companies

Businesses plan recruiting uptick in 2020 as more industries pursue tech talent

A job fair for Japanese college students at Makuhari Messe near Tokyo. Companies are seeking more technology majors than ever.

TOKYO -- Companies recruiting technology majors from Japanese universities are bracing for another year of missed targets as the supply of graduates fails to keep pace with broad demand for such skills as AI engineering and data analysis.

Businesses aim to hire 11.7% more science and technology college students graduating in spring 2020, marking a sixth straight year of double-digit increases, according to a Nikkei survey released Friday. This is 7.5 percentage points higher than the increase for humanities majors. In addition to talent in cutting-edge fields, mechanical engineers and pharmacists are also seeing brisk demand.

But for new hires joining companies this spring, employers have failed to fill more than 5% of their quota for job offers to science graduates, representing an increase in a supply-demand gap that has persisted since data collection began in 2008. By contrast, businesses have hired more humanities majors than planned every year since 2017. If the shortfall continues, Japanese businesses will lack the talent they need to compete effectively.

In overall hiring, major companies plan to recruit 7.9% more fresh university graduates next spring -- a smaller increase than in 2019, but still a 10th straight year of growth. Hiring by nonmanufacturers is set to grow 9.6%, up 2 points from a year earlier amid a labor shortage in industries such as ground transportation. But the rise among manufacturers comes to just 4.5%, a 5.7-point slowdown.

Sony aims to hire 320 new science and technology graduates in 2020, around the same number as this year. About 40% will go to its semiconductor business, particularly its highly competitive image sensor division. The company is scrambling to secure engineers so it can expand new businesses such as artificial intelligence and automotive equipment.

Tiremaker Bridgestone is focusing on data scientists. The company plans to recruit 100 by mid-2019, up 35% from last year, to work on projects such as a planned service using sensor data from tires to make maintenance more efficient.

Technologies such as AI are driving a "transformation in industry, and the range of industries that need science graduates is broadening," said Hisashi Yamada of the Japan Research Institute.

The Japanese government projects a shortage of 50,000 engineers in advanced technology fields next year.

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