After a general election ends, Diet members go back to their hometowns to pay tribute to their supporters. They then return with lots of "homework" in the form of requests from local support groups. Last year, managers of small and medium- sized businesses reportedly told them, "The shortage of local workers is severe. If work-style reform is an issue, then we need some kind of subsidy."
If officials are truly seeking regional revitalization, they could probably learn from the Iwate Prefectural capital of Morioka. From 2015, the city set aside some 9 million yen from city funds and subsidies to hold lectures to train "work-style review consultants." The Iwate Prefecture company Shinko Protec, which specializes in air conditioning and industrial equipment installation and maintenance, sent an executive director to one of these lectures, became aware of the need for reform and invited a lecturer to conduct a training session at the company.
The Morioka Municipal Government went on to cooperate with the Iwate Prefectural Government in work-style reform, and in 2016, the prefectural government launched a "work-style reform consultant dispatching project." Three companies, including Shinko Protec, participated and underwent work-style reform over a period of six months.
Shinko Protec has 35 employees. The internal operations team took on the program on behalf of the company, and left no stone unturned in its examination of the way people worked. Analysis of company operations found various issues, including over 30 percent of all work time being devoted to registering invoices and estimates -- tasks that the company should not have been spending a lot of time on. It also became evident that it was unclear who was handling what job, and that individuals had completely taken over some tasks. The company then created a "skill map" clearly depicting the tasks that each person could do. Fifty-four work duties were revised, with 27 that had been handled by a single person being spread out among several people. A procedural manual was also created for 10 tasks so all staff members could perform them.
Furthermore, skill improvement sessions were held to accurately relay the content of clients' requests to workers on-site. The company set aside as many as 28 hours for learning over three months, and the improvements resulted in greater capacity to take orders that fit specific on-site needs. Over the six-month period until October 2017, the company received 180 more orders compared with the same period the previous year, but at the same time was able to reduce overtime work at the company by 13 percent.
Another company that similarly undertook reforms was Baeren Brewery Co. Ltd. Through a review of the company's information-sharing tools and other measures, overtime work in October 2017 decreased by 33 percent compared with the same month the previous year, while sales were up 110 percent over the same period.
During a debriefing session among the three companies participating in the work-style reform program, the executive director of Shinko Protec suggested, "Even after the prefectural government's work finishes, let's gather independently and give reports." It is evident that the companies were not undertaking work-style reform imposed on them by the national government, but were instead engaging in independent-minded efforts to counter a serious shortage of workers and improve productivity.
It is important that politicians not only distinguish themselves by securing budgets to provide subsidies for regional small and medium-sized companies, but that they also research the proactive efforts being undertaken in those regions, and proliferate and accelerate them. (By Yoshie Komuro, president of Work-Life Balance Co. Ltd.)