During the summer break of every second year public junior high school student here in Kanagawa prefecture, they are given an opportunity to work at a local convenience store, supermarket, or other company, usually in the service or manufacturing industry, in order to experience what working life is like. They are allowed to choose from two or three options, both my son and daughter chose the DIY store about five minutes away from our home.
It was an extremely short stint when they spent just one to two days having a tour of the facilities, interacting with staff as well as customers, and given some routine support activity or tasks. Other prefectures conduct up to five-day sessions. Not very glamorous work environments, but they give a good view of what it means to serve the local community or contribute to the local economy and industry. They are also a good opportunity to stimulate children into thinking seriously for the first time about future careers, and to have a feel for what they might like and NOT like to be doing for the rest of their lives.
In the winter 2011 issue, volume 8, no. 1 of the Japan Labor Review journal is a compilation of papers, some touching upon the state of career guidance and career education in schools and universities. Surprisingly, career education is said to be at an incipient stage in Japan, and that from the 1990s, there has been a disconnect between higher institutions and the job market, leaving many graduates adrift upon graduation.
In this issue, there is to be found a number of insights as well as much information and analysis that is not easily gained anywhere else on the topic of career guidance and career support. I recommend reading “Issues of the Learning through Work Experience Program for Junior High School Students: “The 14-Yr-Old’s Challenge in Toyama Prefecture” by Satomi Terasaki, and “Career Education in High School: Focusing on “Guidance in Ways of Being and Ways of Living”” by Yuki Mochisuki and perhaps also “Career Support in Universities” by Mitsuko Uenishi. I append below a few excerpts pertinent to the concept of the trial work experience:
“Terasaki’s paper is a case study on Toyama Prefecture’s vanguard program “The Learning through Work Experience Program: The 14-Year-Old’s Challenge,” a program for junior high school students to experience life in the workplace (see also Fujita’s paper for Career Start Week). The “14-Year-Old’s Challenge” program began in 1999, and is a program for 14-year-old students in their second year of junior high school to go out into society and participate in five days of activities in local workplaces or to do social services or volunteer activities. The original purpose of these activities was not to make it easier for the students to choose a future job, but to allow them to experience different interpersonal relationships outside their schools. However, Terasakis’s paper points out the issue that from the vantage point of this experience preparing students for their future jobs, there is a limit to what junior high schoolers can do, and as a result of this, all that the students are experiencing is unskilled labor or simple “helper” type activities. As can be seen in Fujita’s paper, this paper also shows us the degree to which an aspect of career education, which originally began as an educational activity, has changed into an activity for getting students to form strong perceptions about jobs in their futures. Mochizuki’s paper looks at “guidance in ways of being and ways of living,” a concept in career guidance that emerged in the 1990s and that is linked with career education in high schools with general education curriculums, which account for more than 70% of all high schools in Japan. “Guidance in ways of being and ways of living” aims to switch away from 1990s career guidance, which stressed feasibility, to guidance that emphasized individuality. According to surveys, “guidance in ways of being and ways of living” results in a more developed awareness of career paths in students who wish to continue on to college, ignites their aspirations to get into more selective universities, and allows them to be satisfied with their choices. However, Mochizuki also points out the issue that if they are only able to get into universities that are different than the ones they had chosen for themselves, they can easily become reluctant entrants, and this does not necessarily lead to their sufficient understanding of the self. Uenishi’s paper asserts that increasing proportion of students continuing on to university, decreasing graduate employment rates, and changes to the graduate recruitment process in corporations have given rise to the importance of university career education. Because of the increase in university advancement rate, university students have come to have many different levels of academic ability and graduates have lost their edge in the job search after graduation. The previously existing link between designated universities and specific companies has disappeared, and the Internet has become the focus of students’ job search activities in the application and hiring processes. Companies do not seek students with specialized skills, but proactive and positive people with high levels of communication skills. However, as the selection criteria are ambiguous, students become confused and are at the mercy of their employment activities. In response to this situation, universities have begun to implement career education beginning from the first year of entrance.”
If you are interested in this topic, you might like to try “How the Japanese Learn to Work” . by R. P. Dore and Mari Sako.
P.S. I am posting the photo assemblage now, because they have only now come back to us at the end of term.
By A. Kawagoe