A shrinking number of engineering graduates from American universities presents "the greatest single threat to American prosperity," says Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, co-author of a Competitiveness Index produced by the national Council on Competitiveness. I cited Porter's comments in a blog about how America appears to be lagging countries like India and China in modifying academic curricula to produce enough grads to fill the growing number of tech job slots.
Yet America appears to be ahead of Japan. According to The New York Times, that country is in the midst of an engineering drought that is leading Japanese companies to adopt heretofore uncommon strategies of recruiting foreign workers and establishing R&D operations in countries like Vietnam and China. Fujitsu, for instance, hires about 30 foreigners a year, mostly other Asians who have degrees from Japanese universities and are thus prepared to adapt to Japan's insular corporate culture.
Japan is fighting a longstanding image of unfriendliness to foreign workers. Some staffing companies see this as an opportunity and are recruiting Chinese and South Korean engineers, training them in Japanese language and customs, and then sending them to work in Japan to work at temporary jobs. The country's labor ministry has established the Asian Talent Fund, a program that spends $30 million a year to lure students from other Asian countries to Japan with training and internships. Says the deputy director of the ministry's human resource policy division:
If these students do well, they can change Japanese attitudes drastically.
To attract a shrinking number of native job candidates, Japanese companies are offering higher entry-level salaries, speedy promotions and even "career coaches," according to the Times. Such incentives are necessary because Japanese students now have job expectations akin to their Western counterparts, says the SVP in charge of human resources at Nissan.
Observers fault increasingly Western attitudes for the shortage, noting that a generation of Japanese students that have known nothing but affluence are typically more interested in pursuing careers in more "glamorous" fields like finance, health care or creative arts. To appeal to those students, some companies are creating ad campaigns such as one for the steel industry featuring a long-haired guitarist declaring that "Metal rocks!" Some universities and companies in the U.S. and the UK are adopting similar tactics, as I wrote back in September.