Japan companies give students child-rearing experiences

Yoshie Baranauskas, right, talks to a working mother of children she provides babysitting services for.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

In late October, a 38-year-old female company employee returned home at around 8 p.m.

"Welcome home. The children had a small fight, but they soon settled down," said Yoshie Baranauskas, a Sophia University senior who was taking care of the woman's two children.

Baranauskas started working as a part-time babysitter in June after receiving training from Colors inc., a Tokyo-based babysitting service provider.

Twice a week, the 21-year-old student picks up the woman's children, aged 6 and 1, at a nursery.

She then takes care of them at the woman's home for about two hours.

Recently, more and more university students have been taking advantage of opportunities to learn about the reality of balancing work and child-rearing through such activities as internship programs.

It is hoped the experiences will help them later balance their own child-rearing and a career.

Colors inc. launched a babysitting training project targeting female university students this year, and about 90 students have completed the training and become babysitters.

The company receives about 200 reservations a month for their services.

Letting students see what balancing a career and child-rearing involves is one of the aims of the project, according to the babysitting service provider.

"Today's students can't imagine the future of balancing work and having a family, and they feel vaguely anxious," said Maki Narusawa, an employee of the company.

"We hope the student babysitters will understand through helping working mothers that it's actually easy to get help from others when they [work] in the future."

As Baranauskas' mother and grandmothers are full-time housewives, she could not imagine what it was like to be a working mother.

But after working as a babysitter, she said: "Many [mothers] are making efforts, including changing their working hours flexibly according to their children's situations."

She also said, "[This experience] made me aware of the reality of rearing children while pursuing a career."

The woman Baranauskas visits for babysitting services gave her advice and encouraged her, saying such things as, "Cooperation with your partner is essential" and "Balancing [working and child-rearing] is tough, but it also gives you happiness."

Some companies have started giving university students opportunities to observe the efforts of their employees to balance work and child-rearing.

For example, Osaka Gas Co. this year began offering students summer internships to that end.

The company worked with Sourire, a Tokyo-based firm that provides career education programs in which students can learn about balancing work and having a family.

Four students who participated in the programme underwent training, including a session held at a nursery, and then visited homes of Osaka Gas employees who are on child care leave or working short hours.

The students helped with such chores as changing diapers and cooking meals, and the mothers told them their stories, including their efforts and difficulties in balancing a career and the work of running a household.

Commenting on the programme, an employee in charge of human resources at the gas company said, "We want students to be prepared to continue their careers by feeling confident about overcoming hurdles for female employees."

To review their experiences, students participating in the programme gave presentations on how to create a working environment that facilitates career planning and child-rearing.

"The timing of childbirth is important if you want to continue your career," said Yuki Nishiwaki, 21, a junior at Kobe University.

"Support from people around you is essential. Therefore, I think it's easier for workers to get support from others if they have children after they gain the trust from their supervisors and colleagues."

Yuya Goto, the only male participant in the programme and a junior at the same university, said: "I'd thought that child care leave would refresh [workers]. But that was a big mistake. [Parents are] always dealing with their children, and they can't take time for themselves.

I thought seriously about how I should support my [future] wife when I get married and have a child."

Seika Tanaka, an associate professor at Shoin University and an expert on career theory, said: "Having firsthand experience in balancing [work and child-rearing] when they are university students is very significant because it allows students to become aware of their working life at an early stage. Work-life balance is not a problem for women only. More male students should be actively involved in these kinds of programs."

70 per cent-90 per cent of moms quit jobs

Even today, many women still leave their jobs due to pregnancy or childbirth.

In response to a survey conducted on women aged from their 20s through 40s, 73 per cent of full-time company employees, public servants and those on similar status, as well as 91 per cent of contract, temporary and part-time workers and those on similar status, said they had quit their jobs because of pregnancy or the birth of their first child.

The survey, which 1,847 women responded to, was conducted in March last year by Meiji Yasuda Institute of Life and Wellness, Inc. in Tokyo.

"Originally planned to quit" topped the reasons for leaving jobs, with 38 per cent of full-time company workers and public servants citing this reason, but many cited working environment problems for leaving.

Twenty-eight per cent cited "an insufficient workplace support system for childbirth and child-rearing," and 17 per cent chose "difficulty in continuing a career while rearing children."

The survey allowed multiple responses.