I believe in the idea that in order to understand others a person must first understand themselves. I believe this can be applied equally to businesses, and thus during my first year in Japan I have worked on building an understanding of my firm. Although I still have much to learn, I am increasingly becoming knowledgeable of other logistics firms and just how they compare with my own firm in different aspects of business.
One of these aspects is human resources management, and because I believe businesses are built around people and their ideas, this is an area I am always concerned about in my firm. Recently, in the 7/31 issue of Logistics Japan, a front page article highlighted some HR approaches being deployed by a fairly large Japanese logistics firm called Senko.
Looking back, I realized I have seen Senko vehicles on the road near my apartment, but there are so many trucking firms in Japan, sometimes the brands I see don't register as particularly significant. So when I looked up Senko's website, I was surprised to see it is a relatively developed company. Below is a summary of the 7/31 article titled "Internships, Including Overseas, Introduced: Avoiding Mismatch Retirement:"
Senko is working to secure its young workers. Despite the success of bringing young workers into the company, in order to avoid retirements due to "mismatch" placement, the company four years ago introduced an internship system. At first, this system was focused in Tokyo and Osaka but last year spread to Sapporo, Sendai and Fukuoka. Further, from next spring, the firm will introduce its overseas internship program in order to secure talent able to respond to the establishment of overseas business.
During the spring and summer breaks at universities in Japan, about 4 or 5 students are brought in for approximately two weeks at a time to Senko's facilities. Once there, the students experience a number of different work functions such as inbound & outbound shipping, product inspection, meter reading, and the billing related to thru processing.
In addition to this onsite experience, students are run through group work related to quality improvement themes--a type of seminar experience. Via this program, there are always a few students majoring in logistics science that write their senior thesis with the internship as the basis of their research. Student participants are reimbursed for commuting and lunch expenses, but since the two weeks is training-focused, there is no consideration of providing wages.
With the overseas internship system as well, students pay for airfare to the location of training where Senko will bear the burden of living expenses and food expenses. Through content that involves international logistics and customs, Senko intends to expand the field knowledge of students via experience communicating with overseas staff.
Although it is well said that, in general, 30% of Japan's yearly new hires leave their first place of work within three years, that number at Senko last year was low at 10%. Despite only 20-30% of internship participants going on to enter Senko upon graduation, there are no "mismatch" retirements amongst that group. The benefit of four years of internship programming means that some of Senko's first participants are now teaching newcomers in the program.
Those from the West might find the idea of a two-week internship interesting as typical internships in the United States and Europe often last full summers. In addition, sponsor companies place students on projects with responsibilities that, depending on the intensity level, almost always have an impact on business performance. Although these types of internships are becoming more frequent in Asia, they are often in foreign companies and still relatively rare. Overall, the "two-week internship" is quite common amongst larger, more successful Japanese firms able to free up resources for participating students.
In my opinion, it is important for universities to stop deferring student work experience to post-graduation, corporate training programs--which I feel are in general insufficient in preparing young Japanese workers for the effects of globalization. Universities need to strengthen their relationships with businesses in Japan so that students can engage themselves more intensely in internships similar to the West and then be able return to an academic environment where they can share and apply those experiences before graduation. Without doing so, the only way that these students can remain competitive is via barriers erected by the government to isolate Japanese industry from stronger, global firms and entrepreneurs trying to penetrate the Japanese market.
Senko's approach is a start and should precede the development of a more robust internship program in the future.