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Business body's move to scrap recruitment timing guidelines may cause protests

University students talk with company employees during a career fair organized by the Osaka Prefectural Government in Osaka's Kita Ward on Oct. 27, 2017. (Mainichi)

Japan's largest business lobby has decided to abolish its guidelines for the timing of the start of recruiting activities by companies targeting college students after deeming such non-binding rules are meaningless because a growing number of companies are ignoring them.

However, the move by the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) could draw protests from small- and medium-sized companies that could be affected by the measure as well as universities.

"An overwhelming majority of businesses fail to abide by the rules. Those other than federation members conduct their (recruiting) activities earlier," Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the federation, said as he announced the decision at a news conference on Sept. 3.

Students and companies have used the guidelines for scheduling their job-hunting and recruiting activities, respectively, even though the rules are largely not observed.

Under the Keidanren guidelines, member companies are supposed to hold explanatory sessions in March or later for third-year university students and begin interviewing applicants in June. The rules are aimed at ensuring that students can concentrate on their studies for as much time as possible before starting job-hunting activities.

However, the guidelines are a kind of a gentlemen's agreement between major companies and are not binding. Foreign subsidiary companies in Japan that are not subject to the rules begin recruiting activities earlier.

Moreover, a growing number of Keidanren member companies secretly begin recruiting students before they are allowed to begin such activities. These businesses typically find talented students during their internship programs they hold in summer for third-year college students, and give them informal job offers on June 1 the following year. As of June 1 this year, nearly 70 percent of fourth-year university students seeking jobs had received such offers, according to Recruit Career Co., a job information provider.

There are also an increasing number of globally-oriented companies that are enthusiastic about mid-career recruiting as well as hiring foreign students, whose academic year is different from that in Japan, and they hire applicants throughout the year.

Therefore, the current recruiting and job-hunting rules obviously appear outdated in the eye of Nakanishi, who also serves as chairman of Hitachi Ltd.

Furthermore, it has been pointed out that Keidanren's decision was partly influenced by the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. As the Tokyo Games coincide with the period for students' job-hunting activities, businesses fear that many big facilities, which they use for their explanatory sessions, will be occupied for competitions. This past spring, Sadayuki Sakakibara, then chairman of the Japan Business Federation, suggested that the organization would review the guidelines precisely because of such concerns.

However, member companies are divided over the plan to abolish the guidelines.

Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. welcomes the federation's move. "We've thought that we should consider hiring applicants throughout the year without sticking to hiring new graduates simultaneously in spring. We'd like to begin to hire people throughout the year as early as possible," a company official said.

Fast Retailing Co., the operator of the Uniqlo casual clothing chain that already hires applicants throughout the year, has also expressed support for the move.

"The period when students want to do job hunting differs depending on each individual. Students who apply to join us when they are still first- or second-year students are very capable," a company official said. The official explained that the federation's abolition of the guidelines "will make it easier for those who've studied aboard to apply for jobs," adding that both students and companies "will benefit from the abolition of the guidelines."

However, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) has urged Keidanren to retain the guidelines as the chamber represents many smaller businesses that start recruiting activities after big companies.

Noting that the rules have deterred major companies' moves to start recruiting activities early, JCCI Chairman Akio Mimura said, "Abolition of the rules isn't an option."

Many university students are at a loss how to respond to the abolition of the guidelines for the timing of companies beginning to recruit college students.

"I'm worried about whether I can find a good job," said a 20-year-old second-year student at a private university in Tokyo, who intends to start his career in society in fiscal 2021.

If the guidelines are to be abolished, students could receive informal job offers much earlier than now. Pointing out that the number of positions available at companies may have been filled by the time he starts job-hunting activities, the student said, "I'm afraid that my choices might be narrowed."

Universities are also worried that the abolition of the guidelines could confuse students. When the federation brought forward the day to start job interviews from Aug. 1 to June 1 in 2016 without changing the timing of starting companies' public relations on their recruitment, it caused confusion to students because the period for their job hunting was shortened and they had to choose their jobs without sufficient analysis of companies they were to join.

In June 2018, the Federation of Japanese Private Colleges and Universities Associations expressed concerns that bringing forward the timing to start job hunting could be taken as a message that Japanese companies are not interested in achievements students have made in their studies at universities.

(By Mikako Yokoyama, Akane Imamura and Naoya Matsumoto, Business News Department, and Kenichi Mito and Kim Soo-rueon, City News Department)

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