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Japan to launch training for foreign plant managers

Foreigners will be able to pick up advanced technical skills without having to learn Japanese.

TOKYO -- The government plans to encourage businesses to expand abroad with a new program allowing them to bring foreign employees with technical backgrounds to Japan for training as supervisors at overseas sites.

     Specifically, the program is designed for positions including foremen directing local workers on production lines and plant managers with duties ranging from equipment maintenance to hiring. Training is assumed to take about a year, covering such practical skills as quality control and production adjustments.

     The government aims to build a basic framework this month and launch the program as early as fiscal 2015.

     Japanese companies employ around 4 million personnel at overseas subsidiaries, according to a quarterly government survey. This represents a roughly 20% jump over the past five years, with the number of foreign managers rising as well. The government expects several thousand people a year to take advantage of the new training program, with demand likely strong at companies with many foreign units, such as Toyota Motor and Komatsu.

     By law, a foreigner on a long-term stay in Japan is issued a visa for a specific residency status, such as "diplomat," "instructor" or "entertainer."

     A "trainee" status also exists but is used for basic technical training and does not cover managers. For the new program, the government is considering whether to revise the law to create a new residency status or to carve out an exception under the "trainee" designation to put the new system in place sooner.

     Under the existing internship program, which Japan intends to lengthen to allow stays of up to five years, participants are required to spend one-sixth of training time on such tasks as learning Japanese. These conditions have made it difficult for companies to use internships to teach necessary skills to managerial candidates and send them overseas immediately afterward. And such personnel do not necessarily need to be able to speak Japanese.

     The new program will likely have looser requirements, allowing trainees to be taught in English or other languages.

     The existing internship system is also plagued by brokers secretly hunting for cheap labor, an issue that has gained global attention. The government plans to set eligibility requirements for the new program to allow only companies with internal regulations to protect workers' rights, such as equal pay for foreign and Japanese staffers in the same positions.

     Even amid a weak yen, major manufacturers continue to build up production capacity overseas. They consider a local presence necessary for capturing demand in growing emerging markets. Management at such sites is easier for local staffers familiar with workers' cultures and customs.


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