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No. of problematic 'one-day internships' rising ahead of heated job-hunting season

Students listen to an explanation at a company booth at an internship event held at Tokyo Big Site in the capital's Koto Ward, on July 8, 2017. (Mainichi)

Companies are increasing the number of "one-day" internships, as both businesses and student job seekers try to get a leg up on the competition ahead of job-hunting season. However, programs that are "internships" in name only are also multiplying.

    "The reason I joined this company was because I did an internship here," explains a newly hired female employee to a group of students visiting a company booth at a large-scale internship information event held in July by personnel support giant Mynavi Corp. in Tokyo. The 112 company booths and roughly 7,900 students flocking to them crammed the large venue, creating a scene not dissimilar to a rush-hour commuter train.

    "I heard from an upperclassman that interning is a 'job-search must,'" said a third year student from Toyo University. "I would like to decide quickly where I'll go."

    The expansion of internship opportunities is remarkable. According to hiring consultant Masanao Tanide, the number of companies offering internships for those who will graduate in spring 2019 exceeded 13,000 across the three largest job information websites as of June 1, 2017 -- the sixth straight year of growth. The number was 1.6 times higher than last year, and 18 times that of six years ago.

    While summer internships in August to September are still the most common, the number of winter internships in January and February is also rapidly increasing, and one-day internships make up 70 percent of the offerings.

    The reasoning behind the increasing popularity of internships can be found in companies' increasing motivation to hire young people fresh out of college. Under the employment policies laid out by Japan's largest business lobby, the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, companies cannot start information sessions and other activities advertising new graduate hiring information until March of the students' third year of university. Internships have been gathering attention as a way to circumvent the rule so companies can have more chances to interact with prospective hires even earlier.

    Keidanren's policy states that internships should not in any way be related to the hiring process, but when it is taken into account that companies want to single out the best students as prospective hires, there are quite a few firms that use the internships as a standard for future hiring.

    The reasons that one-day internships in particular have increased is because they are low-cost and can accommodate a larger number of students. Keidanren also made a move to recognize the rise in internships by amending its policies to eliminate time parameters last spring.

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and two other ministries also released a summary this June penned by a panel of specialists set up to consider the place of internships in the hiring process. Among so-called "one-day internships," some are internships in name only, bereft of any real job experience and virtually the same as information sessions. The panel requested that companies give these programs a name other than "internship," but did not extend discussion beyond that.

    There are circumstances behind this decision as well. There are currently three types of internship available for students: curricular internships for university credit, internships offered via university career centers, and independent offers directly from companies with open applications. The education ministry envisions the expansion of the first type, but in reality, the number of students who wish to participate is low and the cost to companies is large. The participation rate in curricular internships was only 2.6 percent in fiscal 2014. Meanwhile, the number of participants in direct internships offered by companies is difficult for universities and the government to grasp.

    While an advisory council on job search issues composed of universities around the country echoed the education ministry's request that the term "internship" not be applied to one-day events not actually offering any job experience. However, university career centers generally welcome an increase in the overall number of internships. There are expectations that internships will increase opportunities for students to seriously consider their career path. Especially as Japan's job market increasingly becomes a "sellers' market," students have begun to take the process less seriously. This often leads to students panicking when faced with real job hunting.

    Students also agree that internships are an integral part of the process of deciding on a career. In a Mynavi survey of prospective spring 2018 hires conducted from September to October 2016, 90 percent answered that "internship experience is necessary."

    "It may be a sellers' market, but people still focus on major companies, and students who take the initiative to passionately pursue an internship as preparation for entering the workforce stand out," says Takao Yoshimoto, editor of the Mynavi job information website. "While it may look as though the start of the job-search process has been moved up, in reality, many students begin their activities later, and the situation is starting to polarize."

    On the other hand, companies are required to enhance their programs.

    "If it is an internship in name only, students will write it off as something 'not worth taking time off from (their) part-time jobs for.' In this way, the situation will probably resolve itself naturally," says Yoshimoto.

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