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Future of Shrinking Japan: Many skilled retirees keen to return to workforce

Shigeru Taguchi is seen at the Chiba Study Center of the Open University of Japan in Mihama Ward, Chiba, on Dec. 20, 2018. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

CHIBA -- On a sunny day in late December, Shigeru Taguchi, 66, a resident of the Kaihin New Town complex in Mihama Ward, Chiba, east of Tokyo, was sitting in front of a computer at the Chiba Study Center of the Open University of Japan.

He was dressed in a suit because he was scheduled to attend a meeting at an IT-related company where he works in a post-retirement position.

"It's inspiring (to work for the company) as you tend to become insensitive to moves in society once you retire," said the man.

Taguchi, who comes from Akita, northeastern Japan, joined Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp. following his graduation from college. After the public telecommunications firm was privatized, he worked for NTT Communications Corp. and a subsidiary for some 30 years. He was mainly in charge of sales targeting corporate customers. While in the NTT group, Taguchi mainly dealt with megabanks. He was involved in these banks' creation of communications networks connecting their branches in Japan and overseas. He took several years to complete each project worth hundreds of millions of yen, while traveling overseas.

When he was working in Chiba, Taguchi moved into an apartment in the Kaihin New Town complex. He bought a condominium in the area several years after being transferred to the company's headquarters in 1992. He chose the location because it is comfortable and convenient. He witnessed the beginning and developing stages of the information technology industry.

After he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 at the NTT group in March this year, Taguchi was enjoying tennis, his hobby. Then one of his former bosses who serves as president of an IT-related company invited him to join the firm saying, "I'd like you to use your experiences to help us."

Taguchi accepted the job offer because he wanted to make full use of his knowledge and experience in a local company.

He now serves as a "senior adviser" for the IT company, playing an important role in training younger employees and expanding the company's market. He performs telework, mainly exchanging emails and attending web meetings. He does not have to show up to the company's office and receives a salary based on his performance.

"What I want to tell younger people is that there is no quick route for success in marketing," said Taguchi. "It's easy to say this but nobody would understand this unless they have accumulated experience."

-- Few opportunities for retirees to fully utilize experience

Many former "corporate warriors" live in bedroom towns in the Tokyo metropolitan area like the Kaihin New Town -- including former experts in personnel and labor affairs, former nuclear plant engineers and former board members of food manufacturers. However, there are not enough jobs in which these retirees can fully utilize their experience.

"There are many seniors who want to work, but companies have no intention of hiring them. At one company, my job interview lasted for just five minutes," lamented a 65-year-old man who lives in a condominium in Kaihin New Town. He has regularly visited a local public job placement center over the past six months and had about 10 job interviews, but has not found work yet.

After completing graduate school, the man joined a major oil company and handled patent applications for about 20 years. He is well versed in relevant laws and patent application procedures.

He retired five years ago and his former employer introduced jobs such as apartment complex management to him but he did not want to do such work.

The man is currently looking for a clerical job at a legal firm or a government office, but now he has no choice but to use his savings to cover his living expenses.

-- Seniors seek to stay connected to society through work

In September 2017, the Chiba Chamber of Commerce and Industry set up a consultation center aimed at looking for capable senior citizens to revitalize local industries. The chamber has commissioned Persol Tempstaff Co. in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward to introduce those aged at least 60 to member companies, but only five of 56 such job seekers registered with the company have so far found stable long-term work.

However, there have been some successful cases of introducing short-term jobs. The company introduced a position to help in a department store's closing down sale to one person who has worked in the apparel industry and wanted a short-term job.

Junya Masuda of Persol Tempstaff said a growing number of companies will hire retired workers who have good skills and experience.

"In the metropolitan area, there are seniors who have high skill levels and experience. As the labor shortage is growing serious, more companies will likely pay attention to such human resources," he said.

According to a survey conducted by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of people aged 65 or over who were working stood at 5.39 million in 2007, but it spiked to 8.07 million by 2017. The ratio of such senior citizens to the country's total workforce rose from 8.4 percent to 12.4 percent over the same period.

Another survey conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in 2016 shows that 53.6 percent of those in their 60s who were working cited economic reasons for continuing to work. However, over half of those in their 70s and above said they want to have a sense of fulfillment by working or contribute to society, above the ratio of those who continued to work for economic reasons.

The results suggest that there are many elderly people who want to be connected to society through work.

The government intends to raise the maximum age of employees that companies must continue to employ if such workers express such a desire from the current 65 to 70 to make up for the shortage of workers resulting from depopulation and for other reasons.

(Japanese original by Jun Kaneko, City News Department)

This is Part 3 of a series.

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