Shrinking pool of workers brings change to Japan

FILE - People walk across a pedestrian crossing in Ginza shopping district in Tokyo on March 31, 2023. Japan’s economy slipped into a contraction in the third quarter, decreasing at an annual pace of 2.1% as consumption and investments shrank, the government reported Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Tokyo: Japan’s shrinking and ageing population is spurring efforts by businesses to find new ways to keep the elderly employed for longer, as they seek to address a chronic and expanding labour shortage.

Earlier this year, the government committed 3.5 trillion yen on measures to increase the birthrate, but the shortfall in available workers has been challenging employers for some time. Although Japan has taken steps to relax immigration controls, that hasn’t been enough to make up for a shortfall.

All of this has forced companies to come up with new ways to find labour and keep their operations running smoothly, sometimes with novel ideas.

Care for elderly folk is one area that’s seen an acute shortage of labour. What’s interesting is that many of the people tending to those who need help with their ageing bodies, are themselves on the older side.

The average age of caregivers in Japan is 50, already about seven years greater than the average across all industries; that figure is projected to rise further as facilities struggle to attract new workers. Labour shortages in the sector are predicted to triple to 690,000 by 2040, according to the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry.

Job-matching site Sketter was designed so that non-essential jobs in nursing homes can be advertised. Tasks such as cooking, cleaning and meal support can be handled by paid volunteers, giving caregivers more time to devote to their main tasks of taking care of the elderly.

“Seniors are searching for ways to engage in society even after they retire,” said Ryohei Suzuki, who founded Sketter in 2019. “They might be able to work full time, but they are looking for lifework and means for life.”

Japan’s government has said it plans to raise the retirement age of drivers of privately owned cabs to 80, from 75 currently.

Rural areas are suffering from an acute shortage of transportation for the elderly, as local governments cut back on public transport, especially buses, due to declining populations in villages and towns. As a result, cabs are becoming the only option for those who no longer drive and need to get to hospitals, or shop for daily goods.

A government official said that taxi drivers tend to make more money in cities and are usually reluctant to move to regional areas; by raising the driving age, they may be encouraged to remain in rural areas.

Currently, privately owned cabs are licensed to operate in cities with a population of 300,000 or more, but that criteria may also be scrapped.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has sought public input through mid-October and is now working toward announcing new policies, according to the official.

Taxi companies are also seeking to hire younger drivers straight out of school, offering more flexible working hours in order to make up for staffing shortages.

Recruit Holdings Co, Japan’s biggest jobs and staffing firm, began working with employers about 10 years ago to break up jobs into narrower tasks so older workers could be matched up with specific duties.

As a result, employers found it easier to find staff by offering more flexible hours earlier in the day, which cater to older people because they tend to prefer working in the morning rather than late at night, according to Kuniko Usagawa, director of the JOBS research centre at Recruit Jobs Co.

“It’s a great match,” Usagawa said. “At first it was great for supermarkets, but now there are people opening gas stations or cleaning factories. Especially in the logistics sector, we find people who take the first train to work at 5am and get home after 8am.” — Bloomberg

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Japan , population , labour , retirement


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