Hiring Headaches

Back to Contents of Issue: November 2000

Japan ranks dead last when it comes to how easy it is to hire foreign talent. But that's only half the problem.

by Chiaki Kitada

IN OUR AUGUST FEATURE story entitled "The Diverse Face of Japanese IT," we talked about the recent upswing of Japanese companies hiring foreigners to do the fourth D (the digital -- after the dirty, the difficult, and the dangerous). While there definitely is a trend in this direction, especially in the past six months, a survey by the International Institute for Management Development (www.imd.ch) placed Japan dead last (47th out of 47) when it comes to one pertinent category: how easy it is for domestic companies to hire foreigners.

In order to get the ranking for its "World Competitiveness Ranking 2000" report, IMD sent out lengthy questionnaire forms to more than 3,000 scholars and business executives around the world, which means the data is based on their perceptions, not on figures. (In the general competitiveness category, Japan came in at 17th, behind the US, Singapore, some European nations, and Hong Kong.)

Japan has recently been pushing harder to catch up with the US in all things IT. In September, the government set up an "IT Strategy Council" headed by Sony's Nobuyuki Idei. One of the stated goals was for Japan to pass the US in IT within five years; in response, one of the council's first acts was to cite 700 legal impediments to the growth of ecommerce -- things like the obligatory exchange of paper documents in ecommerce transactions.

The full list of the 700 impediments was kept under wraps, but surely one of them is the difficulty that ventures face when trying to hire foreign tech talent. That, however, is just one challenge facing Japan in this regard, points out Yoshio Tsukio, a Tokyo University professor who did related research for the Science and Technology Agency. The other, he says, is to make Japan a more attractive place for gaijin tech talent. "Such attractiveness turns into power for a nation in this high-speed information era, when people, companies, and information move around the world freely," he says. "America is keenly aware of how this serves as a good resource." He cites the example of Indian high-tech workers being drawn to the US.

To shed a little more light on the situation, he's started building a database to analyze "the degree of attractiveness of each country." We eagerly await the good professor's results.

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