Look no further: Japan Inc. wants you

Chehui Peh | Special to
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Corporate Japan is reaching beyond its shores to attract new talent, offering lucrative training programs to recruit employees as far away as the U.S. and Europe.

Bolstered by favorable immigration policies as part of a new growth strategy by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, companies including banking majors like Mitsubishi UFJ and consumer electronics giant Toshiba have become heavy participants in a flurry of job fairs that have sprung up globally in recent months.

Carrots dangled included an opportunity to work overseas in Japan and detailed on-the-job training. But what has proven most attractive is the lack of requirement for specific skills. Unlike other countries, most Japanese firms put their new hires into general job roles before relegating them to specific departments after a training period.

That resonated with Toh Chen Yang, a final year student at the National University of Singapore, who has accepted a general job offer with a Japanese bank after a series of interviews conducted in Singapore and Japan through a third-party middleman firm

"There are better prospects in Japan for me based on my arts degree," says Toh, who will begin his career in Tokyo in September. "In Japan your path is not fixed, it's an opportunity to learn and receive training."

What's needed to sustain Japan's growth
What's needed to sustain Japan's growth

Toh is exactly the sort of candidate Prime Minister Abe hopes to attract to offset the country's aging demographic and labor crunch. Some 60 percent of Japanese firms are finding it increasingly difficult to secure sufficient workers, hit by a pervasive employee shortage that is pushing up hiring costs and starting to eat into profits, according to a recent Reuters poll.

Since early 2014, Japan's government has lowered restrictions on foreign working visas to lure foreign talent, and early data suggest the efforts are paying off. The number of foreigners working in Japan has climbed 9.8 percent since October to a record high of 787,627 people, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

"Japanese companies have started hiring worldwide," said the public relations director of Fourth Valley Concierge Aki Takeda, a Japanese recruitment firm. "If they hope to enter into the increasingly globalized international business world, there is a need for global talents to stay competitive and to fuel expansion."

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Apart from skilled labor, part-time foreign labor has also increased, according to Toshihiko Suzuki, head of the Social Welfare Bureau at Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. "We see an increase coming from students studying abroad in Japan as well, with the biggest increase coming from Vietnamese and Nepalese students."

Diversity can be key

Many companies that need to look overseas are hiring third-party agents or setting up recruiting desks in locations where they want to expand.

Japanese retail giant Fast Retailing, which owns fast fashion brand UNIQLO, has headquarters in different regions to cater to labor demands based on regional operations, but employees are also given the opportunity to be transferred to other international locations.

Japan isn't out of the woods yet: Expert
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"As we are selling to diverse people overseas, there is a need for a diverse workforce," said Oliver Ormrod, head of the corporate public relations at the firm. "Recruitment is a significant investment, and we're always working to find and retain staff both in Japan, and for our overseas operations."

But Ormrod notes not every business is likely to look overseas for workers.

"Sometimes you may not need non-Japanese staff, for instance in operations within rural Japan," Ormrod told CNBC.

"For Fast Retailing, all overseas stores are run by their regional headquarters, but there is still a direct relationship to our headquarters in Japan. As a result, we need foreign talents to communicate the local situation back to Japan and similarly, for foreigners to handle global operations from Japan," he said.

To be sure, some job candidates balk at the low salaries offered due to a sharply weaker yen, but others are looking beyond compensation.

'It's true that the salary is lower in comparison to working in Singapore. However, I think the entire experience would be worthwhile in the long run," said Toh.

"Japan still represents a significant opportunity for anyone with an in-demand skill set [along with] a comfortable lifestyle," Jonathan Sampson,the regional director of recruiter Hays in Japan told CNBC. "You have everything you need here [from leisure to infrastructure]."

Competition may stiffen for local Japanese students looking to enter the workforce in the next few years with companies pushing for skills in second languages, but some remain supportive of the move to globalize.

"I think that change is necessary to stay relevant and to retain a competitive edge," said Koki Goto, a student at Keio University."The trend will affect graduates in the future, but the reality is the need to go beyond the domestic market."