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Internships on the rise as recruiting schedule tightens

TOKYO -- Japanese companies are increasingly offering short-term internships to attract job applicants and ensure a good fit amid a compressed recruiting cycle for college graduates.

     Trial-work experiences of around a week are growing more common, helping students decide which employers they like best by offering a taste of the workplace. Many companies, having sought out internship applicants last autumn, will begin recruiting March 1 for full-time positions for students graduating in the spring of 2017. Around 3,700 companies had announced internship programs on major job websites at the end of October, up about 30% from a year earlier.

     Sumitomo Corp. held its first trial-work session from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12. Students shadowed current workers and spent nights with their fellow interns. Itochu has restarted its own internship program after a year off, hosting students at its Osaka headquarters for the first time to attract a wider variety of participants.

     Mitsui & Co. doubled the participants in its February program to 100. Mitsubishi Corp. has hosted 120 students. Large trading houses typically draw many job applicants. But work at these companies "spans a variety of operations, making the day-to-day reality of the job hard to envision," a Mitsubishi source said. The goal is "to eliminate poor matches by familiarizing [applicants] with the work through internships."

     The internship trend is flourishing at financial institutions as well. Mizuho Financial Group has offered six different internship sessions for spring 2017 graduates, double last year's number. Participants visit corporate customers and gain experience generating solutions to management problems. Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Insurance, a unit of Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Holdings, has expanded its own program by 500 participants to more than 3,200 in all.

     More exotic opportunities are also available. Interns at Uniqlo operator Fast Retailing have the chance to gain store management experience in Shanghai or four other cities abroad. E-commerce giant Rakuten is letting students conduct market surveys and do other work starting in their first year of college. And publisher Kadokawa, a group company of Kadokawa Dwango, will team up with a toymaker on an internship program in March.

     The powerful Japanese Business Federation, or Keidanren, will let members start weeding out fresh-faced job applicants in June this year rather than August. But the date for starting recruiting presentations and other advertising remains March 1, compressing the process by two months.

     "The shortened schedule is driving the increase in internship programs," said Toshimitsu Sowa of Talented People Laboratory.

     Students also "are becoming more proactive about looking into companies and industry trends," career consultant Masanao Tanide said. Internship opportunities will thus likely enjoy broad growth. The share of 2016 graduates with experience as interns came to 39.9%, up 13 percentage points from last year, according to Recruit Career. Though college students typically start looking for work after their third year, first- and second-year students are taking note of internship opportunities as well. Around 70% of first-years reported interest in such programs in 2015, shows an annual survey by the Japan Association of Private Universities and Colleges.


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