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Japanese insurance company considers expanding nursing care business across Asia

Sompo Care University training facility, where nursing care is taught by using the replica of regular rooms in a private residence, is seen. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A major general insurance company in Japan is considering expanding its nursing care business across Asia to respond to the rapid aging of populations in the region -- a move that is expected to boost the number of workers in the industry.

Sompo Holdings Inc., which emerged as the second-largest provider of nursing care in Japan after making a full-scale entry into the industry in 2015, plans to export its know-how in nursing care to Asian countries facing aging of their populations.

Technical interns from Asia are scheduled to be accepted into nursing care companies affiliated with Sompo Holdings, and the initiative is expected to garner attention as a strategy to both train workers in the field and counter labor shortages in the industry.

Japan's Technical Intern Training Program allows technical intern trainees mainly from developing and emerging nations such as Vietnam, China, the Philippines and Indonesia to acquire skills by working in Japanese companies.

In July, 2017, Sompo Holdings affiliate Sompo Care Inc. established a training facility in Tokyo's Minato Ward. Located on two of the floors of an office building, it has spaces replicating a private residence, from the entrance where people take off their shoes to the toilet and bathroom, along with spaces which resemble those found in nursing homes. Around 22,000 employees receive training at the facility every year, experiencing real-life scenarios such as assisting elderly people when they take off their shoes or have baths. The facility is the first of its kind to be built for workers in the industry to learn both in-house nursing care and institutional care in a practical manner.

One goal Sompo Care has in operating its training programs is to educate foreign personnel. The company already has around 170 foreign workers from at least 10 countries, and is planning to accept two technical interns each from China and Vietnam this fall. The company plans to make a foray into countries like China whose populations are rapidly aging, hoping that when the foreign trainees go home, they will be able to provide guidance to others.

Bizen Ri, a 38-year-old Chinese woman who leads the planning division in charge of educating trainees, stated, "When I first started working, it was hard to understand technical terms and what elderly people were saying, which made me scared to provide physical assistance. I want to convey what I found hard, like the feeling of consideration for others that pervades in Japan."

A specific reason for putting effort into training programs is the shortage of workers that has hit the nursing care industry. The rapidly rising demand for nursing care outweighs the available number of workers, and turnover rates are high. A shortage of around 340,000 workers is expected by fiscal 2025, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Sompo Care aims to improve nursing skills and to dissolve workers' worries by putting them in training programs when they enter the company, and by carrying out training on a regular basis. The company was able to secure around 250 potential recruits from among new graduates for the 2018 fiscal year -- the highest figure in the nursing care business, as the training program spread by word of mouth.

Ken Endo, president of Sompo Care, pointed out that "educating people who take an interest in nursing care leads to hiring good personnel," and added that technical trainees "are not just a supplementary labor source, but we want to train them in a careful manner so that they can become personnel who can provide valuable services." He added, "We want to create a system that enables them to continue working in the nursing care sector even after they return home."

(Japanese original by Satoko Takeshita, Business News Department)

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