It's a rite of spring in Japan: Major corporations hire fresh university graduates en masse every April, starting them all at the same salary with assurances of rising pay and lifetime employment.
But lately, some companies, including Rakuten, SoftBank and Line Corp, are breaking with that tradition, signing up new employees with coveted technical skills months earlier - and paying them more than other new recruits.
As competition for workers grows in Japan's shrinking labor pool, traditional seniority and group dynamics are giving ground to the more individualized, merit-based employment system found in the West. It is a welcome sign for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government and the central bank, which have been pushing for a more flexible labor market that would boost wages and revive consumption.
Takashi Murakami, a 23-year-old producer at Mercari, which developed a popular flea market app, says seniority-based pay and lifetime employment are relics. "I'm grateful that the company seems to value me with pretty good pay," he said. "I already got a pay hike after joining the company, which motivated me to work even harder. Merit-based pay is more fitting to the times."
In recent years, Mercari said, it has been hiring college students throughout the year to grab workers with needed skills. The company even offers jobs to some second-year or third-year students. Mercari also has a programme called "Mergrads" to provide internships and training to improve new graduates' skills.
And since April, it started offering higher pay to some job candidates with skills in information technology engineering and computer programming, said Ayano Okuda of Mercari, who is in charge of hiring new graduates. She declined to discuss the company's pay scale.