Japanese employers find value in foreign workers

Japanese employers find value in foreign workers
Celine Tonus, right, and Kensuke Ryuzoji, president of Honda Kiko Co. where she works, talk in an office in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, in December last year.

This is the ninth and final instalment of a series.

In fluent Japanese, Celine Tonus, a 29-year-old French woman, replied over the telephone, "Certainly, I'll arrange it immediately." She smoothly handles orders over the phone from clients as one of the sales staff at Honda Kiko Co.

She joined the manufacturer of industrial pumps in Fukuoka Prefecture in March 2014. Now, she works in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka.

In France, she was a company worker who wanted to widen her knowledge of cultures outside Europe. Subsequently, Tonus became interested in Japan as an economic superpower with high levels of technology.

She learned Japanese and was exposed to Japanese culture on such occasions as a stay in Japan through a working holiday programme. Tonus then decided to find a job in Japan.

Nowadays, she confirms the day's workflow with her colleagues during meetings every morning. If she does not understand something, she voluntarily asks questions.

The working style is different from that in France, where workers must figure out for themselves anything they don't know.

Tonus said, "The way I work now, where we all help each other, is more suitable for me."

After work, she sometimes goes out for drinks with her female colleagues.

"I have learned that work becomes smoother if I raise my level of skill in coordinating opinions," she said.

Honda Kiko has employed 14 foreign workers.

"With foreign employees, we can ship out products overseas without struggling with language barriers," said Kensuke Ryuzoji, 54, president of the company.

"If any of our foreign employees becomes independent and goes to another country, we can expect the person to be a gateway for our sales activities in that country," he added. "Our company can't survive if we continue a way of thinking particular to a local factory, in which managers think only about making products."

The Kansai Economic Federation (Kankeiren) has held networking events for foreigners working in Japanese companies and foreign students, as Kankeiren thinks it would be a shame if foreign students who have come to like Japan end up just going back to their home countries.

At one such meeting in Kobe in mid-December last year, 11 people attended.

One of the foreign workers who attended the meeting told students, "If a new person to the company acts out, that person will gradually become isolated."

Another told the students: "Rebuking is a managers' job. Don't think you are being rebuked just because you are foreigners. Your Japanese colleagues are also rebuked in the same way."

Chen Xuan, a 24-year-old Chinese man who is scheduled to join a Tokyo-based electronics manufacturer this spring, listened to the workers who enthusiastically explained such points.

"We have to create an environment in which we can safely express our opinions as foreigners," said Jin Yan, a 31-year-old Chinese woman working for an Osaka-based materials maker.

An increasing number of Japanese companies have dispatched their Japanese employees overseas for job training.

Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co., a major damage insurance company, dispatches Japanese employees who are in their third year since joining the company for about two weeks each to other countries, mainly Britain, the United States and China.

Hiroya Shiratori, 25, who has worked for the company for four years now, went to India in the winter of 2013. He was involved in business in the country and conducted research and other work together with Indian workers.

He felt deeply the difficulty of communication, saying, "The country was different from Japan, where I can do work based on implicit assumptions."

After returning to Japan, he began to proactively ask questions also to Japanese people to better understand his business partners.

Japan faces a rapid decline in its population. There is no time to spare in better utilizing women, the elderly and foreigners in the workforce.

It is imperative to cultivate more attractive work and ways of working all over the nation. Attempts to change will attract economic growth.

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