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Review planned for internships and their relationship to official employment

Students earnestly take notes at a joint corporate information session held at Tokyo Big Sight, an event venue, in Tokyo's Koto Ward on June 25, 2016. Internships are increasing and are attracting widespread attention. (Mainichi)

As university students set to graduate in the spring of 2017 receive notification of acceptances or rejections from potential employers, internships for those who are set to graduate in the spring of 2018 are on the rise, as employer enthusiasm for the system increases. The line between employment evaluations and internships is a fine one, raising the need to clarify what position internships fill in the scheme of job-hunting and recruitment.

    At a late June information session for corporate internships in Tokyo's Koto Ward, a representative standing before a group of students said with enthusiasm, "Learning about the job is advantageous when it comes to actually applying for jobs." Approximately 100 companies and organizations participated in the internship information session, while around 9,000 students -- far more than were expected -- showed up. A representative from the event organizer, Disco Inc., a company that provides HR training and support services, said, "Internships have become increasingly well established, and both companies and students have shown great interest."

    "I applied for internships through my school, but I want to look for some on my own, too," a male third-year Kanagawa University student said. "I've heard that having internships under your belt works in your favor when you're seeking a job, and they've become the norm among people I know."

    Internships are enjoying a bit of a boom these days. When the season allowed for recruitment of college students set to graduate in the spring of 2017 officially opened on June 1 under guidelines established by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), recruitment companies Recruit Career Co., Mynavi Corp. and Career + began offering internship information for college students expected to graduate in the spring of 2018. According to data tallied by employment consultant Masanao Tanide, a total of 8,588 companies posted internship listings on this day, about 1.4 times the number posted the previous year. The 5,017 companies that posted one-day internships comprised some 60 percent of those listings. Most internships take place in August and September, during students' breaks from school, but listings of those that take place from January to February are already 2.2 times the number listed last year. Since many companies wait until their recruitment of students graduating in spring 2017 has wound down to post internship listings, the number of one-day internships in the winter is expected to increase.

    The rise is due to growing enthusiasm toward recruitment among employers who want to make contact with high-caliber students as early as possible. It is typical for potential employers to assess students' capabilities during their summer internships and use that information for recruitment purposes, or to use wintertime one-day internships as informal information sessions for potential job-seeking applicants. According to Disco Inc., 60 percent of students who participated in internships were later approached by the companies they interned for to attend special seminars. "The line between internships and the job-hunting process has become increasingly blurred," consultant Tanide says.

    Keidanren guidelines stipulate that internships last at least five days, and are not to be advertised publicly or featured in information sessions. The gap continues to grow between such guidelines and what's actually taking place.

    However, this does not mean that recruitment activities under the guise of internships are widespread. Many in the career consulting and recruitment field say that for students who don't know what the working world is like, internships are expected to result in an increase in both students' enthusiasm and understanding toward work. As for one-day internships, one official from the education ministry says, "Putting aside the issue of whether we can call such activities 'internships,' depending on the content, they can contribute to career education."

    Amid such developments, we have seen a move toward a repositioning of internships in the grand scheme of job-hunting and recruitment. Overseas, it is common for internships to lead to full-time employment, and such an arrangement is also common among foreign corporations and IT companies in Japan. It is a natural development for students who intern at certain companies to have an increased desire to work for those companies. A Disco Inc. survey has shown that 75 percent of students who do internships apply to the companies where they interned, and of those, 41 percent were able to secure job offers.

    For small- to mid-sized companies, which struggle to attract employees, offering internships that don't lead directly to securing future employees is not cost effective. There are examples of community chambers of commerce taking a central role in offering joint internships, which have resulted in matches between potential employees and employers. In a regulatory reform meeting held by the government in February, some proposed the implementation of rules for small- to mid-sized companies that differ from those for large corporations and would allow them to offer internships that lead directly to future employment.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry; and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare launched a panel of collaborators on July 12 on career-related research. Keidanren, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) are among the participants, and before the end of the current fiscal year, will aim to determine the positioning of one-day internships, define internships for small- to mid-sized companies and decide how personal information of interns should be handled. How the relationship between internships and official employment will be defined is expected to draw great attention.

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