Skip to main content

Recruitment and Training in Japanese SMEs: A Case Study Concerning Lifelong Learning in the Manufacturing Industry at the Tokyo Metropolitan Area

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online:
International Handbook on Education Development in Asia-Pacific

Abstract

Japan is an aging society facing a demographic problem because of the low birth rate. Therefore, the workforce in Japanese companies is getting older. As a high-tech country with rapidly changing technical and organizational requirements, the demand for lifelong learning is higher and getting more important. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in the Japanese labor market and economic system; however, in contrast to large companies, very little is known about recruitment, training, and lifelong learning in Japanese SMEs. This study, therefore, examines recruitment, training, and lifelong learning in Japanese SMEs. As a first step, the transition from school to work in Japan is presented. This is important because Japan has a very high proportion of academically educated young people compared to other countries. At the same time, the recruitment processes in Japan are very special, which is discussed with existing literature in the field.

As a second step, the paper focuses on the Japanese SMEs. Existing research results about recruitment, training, and lifelong learning in these companies are collected and presented.

As a third step, we introduce our own research. Interviews were conducted with those responsible for recruitment and training in ten SMEs in the manufacturing sector in the Tokyo area, using an interview structure developed on the basis of the outcomes of the previous literature review in the field. The innovative approach of our study is the use of a mixed-method approach, including expert-interviews combined with observations during a company visit. The analysis of the interviews by using the method of Qualitative Content Analysis indicated that recruitment is more problematic for small than medium-sized enterprises.

As a fourth step, we show that small enterprises often have to resort to employing people in mid-career who have little or no further employment opportunities in large enterprises. This finding largely aligns with existing studies.

With regard to training and lifelong learning, however, significant deviations from literature can be found. In contrast to large companies, hardly any formally structured training takes place in SMEs; rather, training takes place in an informal way. In this author’s opinion, the term “On the Job Training” (OJT), which is often used in Japan, cannot be used here. Against this background, we advocate the introduction of the construct of “informal learning” into the scientific discourse of Japan. Informal learning describes these unplanned and unconscious learning processes, and can be found in various professional contexts, including research on lifelong learning, worldwide.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions

References

  • Ashton, D., Sung, J., Raddon, A., & Riordan, T. (2008). Challenging the myths about learning and training in small and medium-sized enterprises: Implications for public policy. ILO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baumeler, C., & Lamamra, N. (2019). Micro firms matter. How do they deal with the tension between production and training? Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 71(3), 464–481. https://doi.org/10.1080/13636820.2018.1518922

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Billett, S. (2000). Defining the demand side of vocational education and training: Industry, enterprises, individuals and regions. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 52(1), 5–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/13636820000200104

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Billett, S., Ehrich, L., & Hernon-Tinning, B. (2003). Small business pedagogic practices. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 55(2), 149–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/13636820300200223

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bishop, D. (2015). Small firms and the failure of national skills policies: Adopting an institutional perspective. International Journal of Training and Development, 19(1), 69–80. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12048

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Björnavold, J., & Colardyn, D. (2004). Validation of formal, non-formal and informal learning: Policies and practices in EU Member States. European Journal of Education, 39(1), 69–89. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0141-8211.2004.00167.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Busemeyer, M., & Trampusch, C. (2012). The comparative political economy of collective skill formation. In M. Busemeyer & C. Trampusch (Eds.), The political economy of collective skill formation (pp. 3–38). Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conrad, H. (2009). From seniority to performance principle: The evolution of pay practices in Japanese firms since the 1990s. Social Science Japan Journal, 13(1), 115–135. https://doi.org/10.1093/ssjj/jyp040

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Debroux, P. (2016). The recruitment process in the Japanese firm. In P. Haghirian (Ed.), Routledge handbook of Japanese business and management (pp. 161–173). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dore, R. P., & Sako, M. (1998). Vocational streams in the mainline formal education system (reprint). In T. Rohlen & C. Björlk (Eds.), Education and training in Japan (Vol. 3, pp. 124–141). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellström, P.-E. (2011). Informal learning at work: Conditions, processes and logics. In M. Malloch, L. Cairns, K. Evans, & B. N. O’Connor (Eds.), The Sage handbook of workplace learning (pp. 105–119). Sage.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26(2), 247–273. https://doi.org/10.1080/158037042000225245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eswein, M. (2012). Vocational education and social inequality as Japanese society makes the transition to a ‘global society’. In M. Pilz (Ed.), The future of vocational education and training in a changing world (pp. 127–141). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Evans, K., Hodkinson, P., Rainbird, H., & Unwin, L. (2006). Improving workplace learning. Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fujimoto, M. (2018). In-house skills development: Corporate in-house education and training and career formation in Japan (part I). Japan Labour Issue, 2(10), 16–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fujimoto, M., Inagawa, F., & Fujinami, M. (2008). Human resource development in small and medium-sized enterprises. Preliminary consideration. Summary. JILPT Research Report No. 103. Tokyo: JILPT.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fujimura, H. (2004). Managing the development of one’s own vocational skills in Japanese companies. Japan Labour Review, 1(3), 23–44.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fürstenberg, F. (1998). Career start in Japan and its social control. In G. Trommsdorff, W. Friedelmeier, & H.-J. Kornadt (Eds.), Japan in transition – Sociological and psychological aspects (pp. 119–143). Pabst Science.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gamage, A. S. (2014). Recruitment and selection practices in manufacturing SMEs in Japan: An analysis of the link with business performance. Ruhuna Journal of Management and Finance, 1(1), 37–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Green, A. (2000). Converging paths or ships passing in the night? An ‘English’ critique of the Japanese school reform. Comparative Education, 36(4), 417–435. https://doi.org/10.1080/713656656

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, R., Simons, M., & Bone, J. (2001). More than meets the eye? Rethinking the role of workplace trainer. NCVER.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hirasawa, K., Xiong, P., Takakubo, Y., & Yu, J. (2018). Economic development and small businesses in Japan. Journal of Modern Accounting and Auditing, 14(4), 189–203. https://doi.org/10.17265/1548-6583/2018.04.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hori, Y. (2009). Changes in the transition from high school to work: Focus on high school career guidance. Japan Labour Review, 6(1), 91–104.

    Google Scholar 

  • ILO (International Labour Organization). (2011). Upgrading informal apprenticeship systems. ILO.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inui, A., & Hosogane, T. (1995). Education as a foundation for work? The efficiency and problems of Japanese upper-secondary school. In L. Bash & A. Green (Eds.), Youth, education and work (pp. 162–172). Kogan Page.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ishida, H. (1998). Educational credentials and labour-market entry outcomes in Japan. In W. Müller & Y. Shavit (Eds.), From school to work: A comparative study of educational qualifications and occupational destinations (pp. 287–309). Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jeong, S., Han, S. J., Lee, J., Sunalai, S., & Yoon, S. W. (2018). Integrative literature review on informal learning: Antecedents, conceptualizations, and future directions. Human Resource Development Review, 17(2), 128–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484318772242

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • JILPT (The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training) (2017a). JILPT Research Report No. 195. Hiring and workplace assimilation at SMEs. https://www.jil.go.jp/english/reports/jilpt_research/2017/no.195.html. Accessed 9 Sept 2021.

  • JILPT (The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training). (2017b). JILPT Research Report No. 199. Disparities in career decisions and perceptions among young people in major urban areas: Based on the 4th survey on the working style of young people. https://www.jil.go.jp/english/reports/jilpt_research/2017/no.199.html. Accessed 9 Sept 2021.

  • Kajikawa, Y., Takeda, Y., Sakata, I., & Matsushima, K. (2010). Multiscale analysis of interfirm networks in regional clusters. Technovation, 30(3), 168–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.technovation.2009.12.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaneko, M. (1997). Efficiency and equity in Japanese higher education. Higher Education, 34(2), 165–181. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1003005519014

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaneko, M. (2019). The formulation of professional and vocational universities: Background and challenges of a new institutional type in Japan. Japan Labor Issue, 3(13), 30–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kariya, T. (1998). From school and college to work in Japan: Meritocracy through institutional and semi-institutional linkages. In W. Müller & Y. Shavit (Eds.), From school to work: A comparative study of educational qualifications and occupational destinations (pp. 311–335). Clarendon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kariya, T. (1999). Transition from school to work and career formation of Japanese high school students. In D. Stern & D. A. Wagner (Eds.), International perspectives on the school-to-work-transition (pp. 273–309). Hampton Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Keizer, A. B. (2009). Transformations in- and outside the internal labour market: Institutional change and continuity in Japanese employment practices. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 20(7), 1521–1535. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585190902983462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Koike, K. (1988). Understanding industrial relations in modern Japan. Basingstoke.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Koike, K. (1997). Human resource development (Japanese economy & labour series). Japan Institute of Labour.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koops, B., & Pilz, M. (2019). Skills development in the informal economy: A case study from South India. The Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 54(4), 580–600.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kosugi, R. (2007). Influence of diversified employment on the initial career of higher education graduates. In J. Allen, Y. Inenaga, R. van der Velden, & K. Yoshimoto (Eds.), Competencies, higher education and career in Japan and The Netherlands (pp. 149–164). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Kuriyama, N. (2017). Japanese human resource management. Labour-management relations and supply chain challenges in Asia. Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lahiff, A., Li, J., Zenner-Höffkes, L., Unwin, L., & Pilz, M. (2019). Industrial standardisation as a driver for cross-national convergence in training processes. Aviation apprenticeships in England and Germany. European Journal of Training and Development, 43(7/8), 752–766. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJTD-11-2018-0112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li, J., Wiemann, K., Weiping, S., Wang, Y., & Pilz, M. (2019). Vocational education and training in Chinese and German companies in China: A ‘home international’ comparison. International Journal of Training and Development, 23(2), 153–168. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12151

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • MacVaugh, J., & Evans, J. (2012). A re-examination of flexible employment practices in Japan. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(6), 1245–1258. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2011.561237

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madono, K. E. (1998). Craft and regulatory learning in a neighborhood garage. In J. Singleton (Ed.), Learning in likely places. Varieties of apprenticeships in Japan (pp. 134–152). Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Manuti, A., Pastore, S., Scardigno, A. F., Giancaspro, M. L., & Morciano, D. (2015). Formal and informal learning in the workplace: A research review. International Journal of Training and Development, 19(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12044

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Matsuo, M. (2014). Instructional skills for on-the-job training and experiential learning: An empirical study of Japanese firms. International Journal of Training and Development, 18(4), 225–240. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12035

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McCormick, K. (1991). Japanese engineers, lifetime employment and in-company training: Continuity and change in the management of engineering manpower resources. In P. Ryan (Ed.), International comparisons of vocational education and training for intermediate skills (pp. 159–184). The Falmer Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • National Association of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion Organizations. (2018). Small and medium enterprises in Japan. White paper. National Association of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion Organizations. https://www.chusho.meti.go.jp/pamflet/hakusyo/H30/PDF/2018hakusho_eng.pdf. Accessed 8 Sept 2021.

  • National Statistics Center, Statistics of Japan e-Stat. (2019). Table 76-2. https://www.e-stat.go.jp/stat-search/files?page=1&layout=datalist&toukei=00400001&tstat=000001011528&cycle=0&tclass1=000001110643&tclass2=000001110644&tclass3=000001110719&tclass4=000001110723&tclass5=000001110724. Accessed 17 Oct 2020.

  • OECD. (2017). Economy. Improving the performance of Japan’s SME Sector. Japan Policy Brief. https://www.oecd.org/japan/japan-economy-improving-the-performance-of-japan-sme-sector.pdf. Accessed 17 Feb 2020.

  • OECD. (2019). OECD economic surveys. Japan. April 2019. Overview. OECD.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Ohta, S. (2010). Jakunen-sha shuugyou no keizai-gaku (The economics of youth employment). Nihon Keizai Shinbun Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Okamuro, H. (2016). Chuusoukigyou no keizaigaku (The economics of SMEs). Chikura Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pilz, M. (2016a). Typologies in comparative vocational education: Existing models and a new approach. Vocations and Learning, 9(3), 295–314. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12186-016-9154-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pilz, M. (2016b). Training patterns of German companies in India, China, Japan and the USA: What really works? International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, 3(2), 66–87. https://doi.org/10.13152/ijrvet.3.2.1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pilz, M., & Alexander, P.-J. (2011). The transition from education to employment in the context of social stratification in Japan –A view from the outside. Comparative Education, 47(2), 265–280. https://doi.org/10.1080/03050068.2011.555115

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pilz, M., & Alexander, P.-J. (2020). The transition from school to work in times of economic and social instability in Japan. In C. Schmidt & R. Kleinfeld (Eds.), The crisis of democracy? Chances, risks and challenges in Japan (Asia) and Germany (Europe) (pp. 291–312). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pilz, M., Harris, R., Zenner-Höffkes, L., & Zirkle, C. (2020). Undertaking comparative VET research in international teams: The example of exploring recruitment and training cultures in SMEs in Australia, Germany and the United States. In M. Pilz & J. Li (Eds.), Comparative vocational education research. Enduring challenges and new ways forward (pp. 291–309). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, P. (2003). The embeddedness of Japanese HRM practices: The case of recruiting. Human Resource Management Review, 13(3), 439–465. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1053-4822(03)00045-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rohlen, T. (1998). Is Japanese education becoming less egalitarian? Notes on high school stratification and reform (reprint). In T. Rohlen & C. Björlk (Eds.), Education and training in Japan (Vol. 3, pp. 1–30). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sako, M., & Sato, H. (1997). Japanese labour and management in transition: Diversity, flexibility and participation. Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sambrook, S. (2006). Developing a model of factors influencing work-related learning: Findings from two research projects. In J. N. Streumer (Ed.), Work related learning (pp. 95–125). Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sato, H. (1997). Human resource management systems in large firms: The case of white-colour graduate employees. In M. Sako & H. Sato (Eds.), Japanese labour and management in transition: Diversity, flexibility and participation (pp. 104–130). Taylor & Francis Group.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith, E. (2019). Apprenticeships and ‘future work’: Are we ready? International Journal of Training and Development, 23(1), 69–88. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijtd.12145

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. (2017). Labourforce survey. Tokyo.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stone, I., & Braidford, P. (2008). Engaging small employers in continuing training. An international review of policies and initiatives. A Report for the Sector Skills Development Agency (Research Report 30). Durham University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Takahashi, K. (2017). Polarization of working styles: Measures to solve the polarization and new category of regular employees. Japan Labor Issues, 1(1), 12–19.

    Google Scholar 

  • Takenori, I. (2017). Human resource development in twentieth-century Japan. JPIC.

    Google Scholar 

  • Takeuchi, Y. (1997). The self-activating entrance examination system – Its hidden agenda and its correspondence with the Japanese “salary man”. Higher Education, 34(2), 183–198. https://doi.org/10.1023/a:1003001402176

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tam, S., & Gray, D. E. (2015). The practice of employee learning in SME workplaces. A micro view from the life-cycle perspective. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 23(3), 671–690. https://doi.org/10.1108/jsbed-07-2015-0099

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tanaka, M. (2009). Skill development and the distribution of skill at an iron and steel production line. Japan Labor Review, 6(3), 7–24.

    Google Scholar 

  • Teichler, U. (2007). The relationships between higher education and employment in Japan and The Netherlands. In J. Allen, Y. Inenaga, R. van der Velden, & K. Yoshimoto (Eds.), Competencies, higher education and career in Japan and The Netherlands (pp. 251–264). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Terada, M. (2012). Challenges of vocational education and career education in high schools in Japan– From the viewpoint of career-competency formation for transition. In M. Pilz (Ed.), The future of vocational education and training in a changing world (pp. 96–112). VS Verlag fürSozialwissenschaften.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2010). SMEs in Japan: A new growth driver?. .

    Google Scholar 

  • Thelen, K., & Kume, I. (1999). The rise of nonmarket training regimes: Germany and Japan compared. The Journal of Japanese Studies, 25(1), 33–64. https://doi.org/10.2307/133353

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Waldenberger, F. (2016). In-house careers: A core institution of the Japanese firm in need of reform. Journal of Strategic Management Studies, 8(1), 23–32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yamamoto, T. (2017). Chuushoukigyouniokerushinsotsusaiyoukoudounikansurujisshoubunseki (Empirical analysis relating to hiring of new graduates by SMEs). Journal of Japan Society of Human Resource Management, 18(4), 4–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yasuda, H. (2009). Impact of the using non-regular employees on on-the-job training – From both viewpoints of companies and workers. Japan Labor Review, 6(4), 93–115.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yin, R. K. (2002). Case study research. Design and methods. SAGE Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yoshimoto, K. (2002). Higher education and the transition to work in Japan compared with Europe. In J. Enders & O. Fulton (Eds.), Higher education in a globalising world (pp. 221–240). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Yoshimoto, K., & Yamada, H. (2007). University education and its relevance to working life. In J. Allen, Y. Inenaga, R. van der Velden, & K. Yoshimoto (Eds.), Competencies, higher education and career in Japan and The Netherlands (pp. 97–127). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthias Pilz .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Section Editor information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2023 Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Pilz, M., Sakano, S. (2023). Recruitment and Training in Japanese SMEs: A Case Study Concerning Lifelong Learning in the Manufacturing Industry at the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In: Lee, W.O., Brown, P., Goodwin, A.L., Green, A. (eds) International Handbook on Education Development in Asia-Pacific. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-2327-1_40-1

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-2327-1_40-1

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Singapore

  • Print ISBN: 978-981-16-2327-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-981-16-2327-1

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference EducationReference Module Humanities and Social SciencesReference Module Education

Publish with us

Policies and ethics