The Yomiuri ShimbunWorsening labor shortages have started to have an adverse impact on economic growth. The public and private sectors should act together in tenaciously implementing diverse measures.
The effective ratio of job openings to job applicants has hit 1.6 for the first time in 44 years. A survey by the Bank of Japan has also found that the negative business sentiment regarding manpower shortages is as acute as that recorded during the bubble economy period.
The biggest factor is that the working-age population aged 15 to 64 — the age groups of key workers — has been declining. It will continue to decline rapidly in the years ahead. It is necessary to properly recognize that the manpower shortage is a medium- and long-term challenge.
In business circles, there have been a succession of cases in which companies find it difficult to continue operating due to manpower shortages.
According to a private credit research firm, the number of businesses shut down because of manpower shortages reached 310 in fiscal 2017. There have been many cases in which businesses have become unable to continue operating, due to either a lack of employees or an absence of successors. Reckoned to be even greater than these cases is the number of businesses that decide to discontinue operations on their own volition.
The manpower shortage has also influenced consumers through a decline in the quality of services, as seen in shortened business hours at retailers and restaurants. This spring, moving companies became unable to secure enough drivers, giving rise to so-called “house-moving refugees,” or those who are unable to move to a new place when they wish to do so.
The shortage of staff in information technology industries cannot be overlooked, either. This would also become a hindrance to the government’s growth strategy, which advocates the utilization of advanced technology.
Labor force mobility key
The urgent task in addressing labor shortages is to enhance productivity per worker.
By advancing work style reform, such as a “post-hourly wage,” it should be realized that shorter working hours would result in greater output. Labor-saving investment, such as the introduction of artificial intelligence and robotics, could also be effective.
It is also vital to make efforts to increase the number of workers.
In order to facilitate women’s efforts to find work, the issue of children on nursery waiting lists urgently needs to be solved. Also needed is to create environments in which women can choose their working hours and conditions flexibly.
It is also important to make use of elderly people who are keen to work. Their individual circumstances, including the state of their health, should be dealt with painstakingly.
Increasing the employment of foreign workers will also become a challenge. The government is said to plan the introduction of a new residence status, as early as next April, that will enable foreign nationals with certain expertise to work in Japan. The government should soundly complete the arrangements for the selection of the types of industries for which the system will be introduced and the preparations for accepting these workers.
Labor shortages are serious in such businesses as nursing care services, but the number of job seekers exceeds that of job openings for general clerical jobs. The task of solving mismatches of supply and demand in employment must not be forgotten, either.
By taking such measures as improving vocational training, it is important to develop a labor market where it would become easier for workers to switch jobs across different occupational lines.