TOKYO -- Engineers in Japan are enjoying an extreme sellers' market, where more than five jobs are available for each jobseeker in certain fields, as efforts to develop artificial intelligence, internet of things and autonomous driving technologies accelerate.
"Employers are contacting us to get several dozens of engineers at once," reported an executive at a headhunter.
Honda Motor, for instance, will more than double midcareer recruits on the year for fiscal 2017 to bolster its self-driving technology and AI development.
Leading carmakers and electronics companies are taking on 30% more workers on average, said an executive at Recruit Career, a Recruit Holdings group company.
Midcareer job offers increased to roughly 170,000 positions in May, hitting an all-time high for a 30th month, according to data released Monday by employment agency Intelligence. The rise was driven by engineering jobs. "There are no signs of a ceiling," said Seiya Oura, chief editor for Doda, a job search website run by Intelligence.
The ratio of job offers to applicant came to a whopping 5.87 last month for engineers looking for a job in big data analysis and other internet-related work, according to data from Recruit Career. The same ratios were 3.27 for IT communications jobs and 4.55 for development engineers with experience in control boards and other types of circuit boards. The average figure for the labor market overall came to 1.85.
Worker shortages are felt particularly deeply in the field of embedded software for control boards and other devices, including image processing systems for self-driving vehicles. The extreme shortfall has even changed the long-held hiring practice in Japan.
Traditionally, companies in need of engineers only looked in similar industries for candidates no older than 35. Today, automakers are hiring engineers from different industries such as electronics and electric machinery. New recruits in their 40s and 50s are no longer unusual, said Masanori Kawabe, president of engineering headhunter Meitec Next.
Even engineers in their 20s are in strong demand for AI, big data and other internet-related projects. "Companies are simply short-staffed, and personnel with knowledge of machine learning are wanted across the industry," said Kawabe. Some employers are even eager to take on people with no experience as long as they have technical knowledge.
In such a strong sellers' market, it is not surprising that engineers are reaping financial benefits as well. Some 28% of system engineers and embedded software engineers said their annual income increased 10% or more after switching jobs, up 7 percentage points from 2013, a Recruit Career survey found. Foreign companies in particular tend to offer higher pay at the time of hiring.