Senior Engineers Back in Fashion
As many readers will know, among other things, I'm in the IT business, so I follow the local trends quite closely. What I'm seeing over the last 4 months (Jan-Apr 2005) is that foreign firms are back in the market for senior IT people, both software, hardware, and networks/security. Just about daily, not just through DaiJob, but also personally. I'm receiving urgent requests from clients for senior staff. In a way this is ironic, because it wasn't so long ago (2001-2003) that the same firms were either letting senior people go in order to bring down overheads, or simply not replacing them. But, then, I guess that is the prerogative of large foreign companies.
Why is there a demand, just as the US economy is starting to soften, and the direction and safety of the Japanese economy is by no means assured? I believe there are two reasons; first, the recent strength of the global economy has meant that larger multinationals have been able to build up a war chest, and they see that Japan as stable, and in the light of recent real estate inflation in the West, relatively cheap as well. Thus, these companies are expanding aggressively into Japan, developing core business in competition with Japanese incumbents, doing M&As, and basically entrenching themselves in the market. The key advantage that foreign companies bring to their Japanese businesses, and why they are often able to outperform Japanese firms, is that they know how to apply IT to get both control and feedback over the business.
The second reason has to do with both the Year 2000 problem (remember that?) coupled with the slow-down in 2001-2003. Spending for IT peaked in 1999, when companies were frantically trying to prevent a meltdown of their systems, so naturally there was a lull during 2000. Then, for the multinationals at least, that dip got bridged into the September 11th attacks and the general IT malaise that hit the world for the following 2 1/2 years. Thus, for many companies, their core infrastructure - and we're talking networks, high-end call center PABXs, high-end servers, and core systems software here, are all reaching the end of their natural 4-5 year life. As companies realize this and get ready to reinvest, they find that the world has changed and the skill sets needed in the late 90's are not adequate for what is needed now. What has changed you ask? Well, think SANs, Linux, SAP, Oracle 11, and VoIP as just several major examples.
There are job opportunities across the board. The main demand is of course for bilinguals, but surprisingly, so long as you have a deep enough level of experience, there are also positions for Japanese-only and English-only individuals as well. One major multinational called me recently and said, "Look, right now we don't really care if the person is bilingual, we just need someone who can architect the system and work at a global level," or words to that effect.
The types of jobs available include software systems analysts, network architects, security experts, critical systems project managers, strategic IT experts assisting CIOs (we have several of these positions), and others besides. Most of these positions are full-time roles and would ideally suit individuals who have been in Japan for some time and are ready to take the next step in their careers. An ideal background is someone who has been in a local systems integration, development house, or manufacturing company and who is fully up to date in the technology being sought.