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Economy

Japan wants 10,000 Asian elderly care workers in 3 years

Tokyo looks to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos to help ease the labor crunch

Nursing care trainees take in a lecture in Vietnam.

TOKYO -- Japan aims to attract 10,000 Asian interns to its nursing care sector over the next three years to help address the growing labor shortage. The first arrivals will come in November from Vietnam.

Last year, the government added nursing care services to the list of sectors allowed to offer technical intern training programs for foreigners. More detailed plans of how to slot the new arrivals into the workforce will be announced during a government meeting on health care policy on Wednesday.

As a first step, about 300 trainees from Vietnam are to arrive by the end of this year. The program will then expand to include trainees from Thailand, Laos and elsewhere in Asia.

Those hoping to qualify for technical internships typically must first pass Japanese fluency tests. The government plans to introduce an exam specifically for potential caregivers from fiscal 2018.

Lowering the barriers

While conventional language tests touch on verbal skills, they have until now focused heavily on writing skills, including understanding kanji Chinese characters, which has proven prohibitively difficult for many examinees. The new exam will focus more on testing knowledge that is essential in the nursing care field, including specific terms needed in the workplace.

Japan's labor crunch is worsening. In April, the ratio of job openings to applicants was higher than that during the country's high-flying bubble years in the 1980s. The situation is particularly dire in the nursing care sector. A government white paper published in May said the industry will have a shortage of 370,000 workers in fiscal 2025, with the shortfall reaching 35,800 in Tokyo alone.

The nursing care industry is counting on relief from the government initiative. Tsukui, one of the leading players, hopes to accept up to 150 Vietnamese interns by the end of this year and assign them to nursing homes.

Gakken Cocofump, which operates assisted-living facilities, plans to welcome a total of 120 workers from Myanmar, China, the Philippines and elsewhere by 2020.

Japan has had similar programs in the past under economic partnership agreements, but they have been limited to caregivers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The aggregate number of such caretakers is smaller than envisioned -- coming to 2,777 over the nine years through October of last year. A major hurdle has been the high level of Japanese fluency required, including requirements about learning Japanese technical terms.

Japan recently opened its doors to foreign housekeepers, though the program is limited to Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures. Staffing company Pasona in March hired 25 Filipino housekeepers, and housekeeping service provider Duskin has hired eight Filipinas, dispatching them in May to households in the cities of Osaka and Yokohama.

(Nikkei)

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