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Labor shortage forces fast food chains, convenience stores to turn to housewives

A participant, right, makes a cheeseburger during a work experience event for housewives at a McDonald's store in Nakano Ward on Sept. 5, 2017. (Mainichi)

As Japan's labor shortage worsens, fast food chains and convenience stores are trying to appeal the merits of their workplaces to a new possible labor force -- housewives.

    The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced the July 2017 ratio of job offers to seekers on Aug. 29, and it was on the rise for the fifth month in a row, 0.01 points higher than June at 1.52 available spots to one job seeker. With a striking labor shortage nationwide, the fast food and retail industries in particular are scrambling to secure a new source of employees.

    Anticipating a change of pace for housewives across Japan as summer vacation comes to a close, fast food giant McDonald's Co. (Japan) launched a work experience event on Sept. 5 specifically for housewives to try out becoming part of the "crew" to increase interest in the job. At roughly 2,900 locations across the country, the housewives try out making hamburgers and handling customers for 30 minutes at a time.

    The company has roughly 130,000 store employees, 20 percent of whom are housewives. "McDonald's has a strong image of being a workplace for young people," the head of the company's human resources department Atsuko Cho told the media on the day of the event. "But with short working hours starting from two hours once a week and flexible shifts, we would like to show housewives that McDonald's provides an easy work environment and we are looking to hire tens of thousands of new employees."

    At a store located in Tokyo's Nakano Ward, 11 women participated in the work experience event on Sept. 5. "I quit working after I gave birth, and since it's been quite a while since my last job, I'm a bit worried," admitted a 55-year-old woman living in nearby Suginami Ward. "The manual is easy to understand and there is a proper training system in place, so it looks like I can do it."

    McDonald's Co. (Japan) isn't the only fast food chain to look to housewives as potential new employees. Zensho Holdings Co., the company behind franchises such as major beef bowl chain Sukiya Co., has offered day care centers for employees since 2015, and two locations in Ibaraki Prefecture can be used all year around. The company plans to continue increasing the number of day care centers.

    In the same way, convenient store companies, which rely heavily on the labor of part-time workers, are also beginning activities targeted at hiring housewives. Just this month, Family Mart Co. began holding company information sessions for housewives with company President Takashi Sawada himself taking the podium.

    Using job listing magazines and introductions from current staff to bring in participants, Sawada explains the job details and appeals to the women to consider the job. It is reportedly rare for Sawada to appear at company information sessions. Currently, about one-fourth of Family Mart's 200,000 store employees are housewives, and with Sawada's appearances, the company hopes to hire an additional 100,000 housewives.

    Like McDonald's, Family Mart is not alone in their industry in appeals to housewives. In order to increase its labor force, Seven-Eleven Japan Co. plans to set up day care facilities on the second floor of stores in Tokyo's Ota Ward and in the city of Hiroshima this fall for store employees, aiming to create a friendlier working environment for those in the middle of child-rearing. Lawson Inc. is also stepping in, planning to be the first major convenience store chain to introduce automatic change machines this November to further simplify work required by store staff.

    The ratio of job openings to applicants for the retail industry in 2016, which includes convenience stores and burger chains, was 2.01, meaning that for every one job seeker, there are two unfilled positions in the industry. The labor shortage comes from a background of a declining population, and many companies are moving forward with actively hiring the elderly and foreign nationals to lessen the gap. However, there are said to be over 3.15 million women nationwide who quit working after marriage or pregnancy, and these new measures hope to tap into the potential of this demographic to solve the labor shortage.

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