SAPPORO -- Foreign technical intern numbers at local firms and organizations hit a record high of 10,032 in 2018 amid the northernmost prefecture's severe labor shortages in the agriculture and fishing sectors, according to a Hokkaido Prefectural Government survey.
The figure also marks the seventh consecutive year-on-year rise, and a spike of 1,530 people over 2017. The prefecture has been conducting a foreign hires survey since 2006 under the central government's Technical Intern Training Program.
The latest foreign hires survey covered 269 companies and organizations between January and February this year. These included agricultural cooperatives, and chambers and associations of commerce and industry -- which act as supervising organizations for the program -- as well as firms that accept foreign trainees independently. Of them, 244 bodies responded to the survey, with 128 of them saying they had accepted foreign technical trainees.
By business category, the food manufacturing industry topped the list with 5,357 trainees accepted in 2018, up 509 from the previous year, followed by the agriculture industry at 2,765, a rise of 324, the construction industry at 999, an increase of 288, and the fishing sector at 238, a boost of 78.
Foreign technical trainees engaged in the food manufacturing and agricultural sectors account for 80 percent of all those hired under the program in the prefecture, according to the survey. Of trainees in the food industry, 75% work in seafood processing.
By country of origin, Vietnamese trainees numbered 5,232, forming a majority and marking an increase of 1,349 from 2017.
By region, the Ishikari region in western Hokkaido accepted the most foreign trainees, at 1,734, followed by the Okhotsk region to the northeast at 1,416, and the Oshima region in the south at 1,274.
Regarding their future foreign trainee plans, 64 groups said they will hire more. Some of those companies already provide support programs, such as exchange events for foreign trainees to mingle with Japanese employees, as well as offering Japanese language correspondence courses.
Last month, Japan introduced a new system to accept more foreign laborers. Under the system, foreign technical trainees can acquire a special residency status without sitting for an exam after completing three to five years of training under the training program.
However, the latest survey found that most of the foreign trainees in Hokkaido are scheduled to return to their countries upon completing their internships. "As the new system has just started, we are not yet sure about its effects. But we assume the number of foreign trainees will continue to increase as preparations to accept them progress," said an official with the prefectural government's Department of Economic Affairs.
(Japanese original by Kohei Shinkai, Hokkaido News Department)