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News Release

Difficult Conditions in the Graduate Employment Market
and the Importance of Vocational Education

November 17, 2009


Employment prospects for university graduates and postgraduates are strongly affected by economic trends. However, the lag between the time when students look for a job and their actual graduation means that it is the state of the economy around 12 months before graduation that has the greatest impact on employment prospects. The economic downturn will have had a limited impact on those due to graduate or complete their course in March 2009, but is likely to have a severe impact on those graduating in 2010 or later.

For students' employment prospects to be more strongly affected by the economic conditions that happen to prevail at the time when they are looking for a job than by how they spent their time at university or graduate school is not a desirable state of affairs. Whether they are recent graduates or not, people should be employed on the basis of their qualities and abilities. This calls for action not only on the part of companies, but also from universities, which must strengthen their capacity to produce professionals and from students themselves, who must acquire greater occupational adaptability. Measures to promote employment such as occupational training and systems to help workers acquire new skills are important, too, but rather than receiving occupational training in little related areas, during their time at university or after graduation, it is thought that ensuring students have a basic grounding would make them more adaptable.

A survey of occupations held by new graduates reveals that the largest proportion are engaged in clerical work, the area in which recruitment other than of new graduates is the lowest of all the labor markets. This reflects supply and demand within the framework of the current system, which centers on the mass recruitment of new graduates, but if Japan is to move towards greater emphasis on the link between occupations and the academic experience and qualities of job applicants, this system has the inherent weakness that the relationship between academic background and occupations is weak.

By academic discipline, the link between the academic experience and occupation is strong among the majority of those who have studied health- and engineering-related subjects, but many of those who have studied humanities or social sciences are engaged in clerical work. The vagueness of the link between academic experience and occupation has the advantage that it allows graduates to be assigned a wide range of work other than that requiring specific skills or specialist knowledge. However, it does present the problem that, in the case of recruitment other than new graduate recruitment, the demand for clerical workers is weak, and there is also a risk that the skills and specialist knowledge demanded in occupations where there is strong demand for labor will not be available.

Although relationships with Asia are said to be of growing importance in Japan's economic activity, etc., an examination of university education in terms of the various problems facing society and its ability to provide the type of human resources required reveals that Asia-related courses are still only a small presence in universities, which tend to focus on Europe and the United States. The increasing importance of welfare and local regeneration-related courses in universities does reflect the issues facing society today. Overall, however, humanities and social sciences courses, where the connection between academic experience and occupation is weak, account for a large proportion of university places and are concentrated in the Kanto and Kansai regions.

As the distribution of humanities and social sciences courses, which offer a large number of places, is strongly weighted towards the Kanto and Kansai regions, the number of university places across all universities also tends to be concentrated in the Kanto and Kansai regions. For this reason, many students going on from senior high school to university also move from other regions into the Kanto and Kansai regions.

The concentration of university students in the Kanto and Kansai regions, especially in the humanities and social sciences, causes problems when it comes to finding employment opportunities. Large numbers of businesses are concentrated in the Kanto and Kansai regions and provide many job opportunities in areas including clerical work, but these opportunities are not as numerous as the numbers of students. When seeking employment, therefore, university graduates migrate in the opposite direction from when they entered university, moving away from the Kanto and Kansai regions to other regions. However, 10-15 years after first taking up employment, they gather in the Kanto region once more.

Universities facing problems with applications for places and a low success rate for graduates seeking employment, etc. should review the range of majors they offer. They could, for instance, consider increasing the weight of courses where the connection between academic experience and occupation is strong and courses that take advantage of local characteristics or the unique characteristics of the university.

Simply changing the disciplines in which universities offer courses will not be enough to achieve a closer connection between academic experience and occupation. As the number of universities with fewer applicants than vacancies has risen sharply and some institutions, far from using entrance examinations to whittle down the number of applicants, are faced with the problem of how to attract more students, some hold that the number of students with insufficient desire to learn and academic ability is rising. Students also need to ensure that their academic experience gives them the ability to adapt to the kind of jobs they will be expected to do as future graduates.

For more information on the content of this report, please contact Kiyoshi Yoshimoto , the Japan Research Institute, Limited.

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