TOKYO -- Japan's staffing firms are stocking up on foreign engineers to meet burgeoning demand in cutting-edge technical fields as a shortage of qualified Japanese workers deepens.
Domestic staffing agencies commonly employ foreign engineers full-time to dispatch to other companies as needed. This year, Temp Holdings plans to bring on experts in information technology, in addition to the mechanical and electrical engineers hired previously. The plan is to take on 50 recruits in fiscal 2017, raising the total to around 130. Interviews will be held mainly in seven Asian nations and regions, including Vietnam and mainland China.
Recruit Holdings is setting up a training center at a two-year technical college in South Korea, and will accept around 30 graduates this fall, based on their final exam results. These workers will be sent to companies such as Japanese automakers starting next spring to do design and other work. The agency currently has about 200 foreign engineers available, and plans to add 150 or so each year, pulling in both fresh college graduates and mid-career experts.
Human Holdings, which began offering foreign engineers for hire last fiscal year, plans to have 750 of these workers on staff by fiscal 2019 -- 15 times the current level. The company will hold its first information sessions in Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar in June.
The growing internet of things, which brings everyday devices online, and other technological developments have made engineers a hot commodity in Japan, to the point that demand significantly exceeds supply. Meanwhile, fresh graduates from Asia are eager to work in Japan, hoping for better pay. Staffing firms sense a win-win, and are looking to add around 1,000 people every year to Japan's pool of 50,000 or so foreign engineers.
Chance to grow
If past experience is anything to go by, companies will have a fairly easy time securing visas for these workers. "We've never faced delays in receiving immigration clearance," said one major staffing firm.
Securing the workers themselves could be another matter. Countries around the globe are increasingly in competition for skilled engineers. Japan will need to make significant systemic changes to improve its standing, such as easing requirements for permanent residency.
Still, employment in Japan is a sizable step up from working in contract development centers elsewhere, which are used by Japanese companies to cut development costs. By going through a staffing agency, foreign engineers can receive the same work as their Japanese counterparts, and the same level of compensation.
By 2030, Japan's IT sector will demand around 590,000 more workers than it can get its hands on, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry estimates. More companies booking engineers on a contract basis are warming to the idea of foreign employees, provided they possess sufficient skills. TechnoPro Holdings, a staffing agency specializing in skilled technical workers, reports that more than 10% of its clients say they will accept overseas staffers -- and that figure is rising.