Helping foreign workers in Japan pays off for small auto parts maker

TOKYO – Managing a diverse workforce is like coaching football in Brazil, says the head of a small Japanese auto parts supplier looking to establish himself as a pioneer in supporting foreigners in a country that tends to see them as guest workers rather than residents.

“Brazilian football is strong because players come together to win, regardless of race or nationality,” said Toshinao Hirano, 45, president of Hirano Vinyl Industry, which manufactures seat covers.

The manufacturer’s story shows how such inclusion becomes a factor in the opinions of financial institutions and investors about Japanese companies, in addition to environmental and governance criteria.

Located southwest of Tokyo in Shizuoka Prefecture – home to Suzuki Motor and Yamaha Motor – the company recently received 100 million yen ($ 900,000) in working capital financing from local lender Shizuoka Bank.

The positive impact financial loan, based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, partially rewards Hirano Vinyl for its efforts in energy conservation and waste reduction. The main reason, however, was its efforts to foster a multicultural workforce.

A total of 97 foreign nationals, including 49 participants in a government-run technical training program and 10 permanent employees, worked at Hirano Vinyl in February, accounting for more than 60% of the payroll. They come from countries like Brazil, Peru and the Philippines.

Hirano Vinyl offers in-house Japanese lessons. Its overseas employees participate in beautification projects, disaster preparedness training and other community activities.

Salary scales are generally uniform regardless of the nationality of the employees. Technical trainees who demonstrate competence in their functions may see their wages increased to a level comparable to that of other workers. Foreigners have been recruited to serve as sub-section chief or team leader. Manager training is provided to foreigners as well as through interpreters.

Hirano received one of his first lessons in multiculturalism when he traveled to Brazil after high school for a football camp. There he was the foreigner, and he found that the team welcomed him regardless of his nationality.

After taking the reins of his father’s private company in 2004, when he was in his twenties, Hirano decided to start offering assistance to foreign workers. He started with Japanese lessons after being forced to cut jobs following the 2008 financial crisis.

Hirano aims to publish a comprehensive training program for foreign workers by 2025. The hope is that sharing the know-how with the public can help foreigners better integrate into Japanese communities.

Many foreigners working in Japan arrive as part of a government-run technical training program.

Supporting foreign employees is also a concern of listed companies, especially since investors are more attentive to environmental, social and governance factors. Companies have started disclosing more information in investor materials about how they help these workers.

Restaurant operator Skylark Holdings has written in annual reports about a help desk it has set up for its some 2,500 non-Japanese workers. The company also said it has a program to hire friends and compatriots of current employees to alleviate any feelings of anxiety and isolation. The latest annual report of seafood company Kyokuyo mentioned a Japanese language school for foreign technical trainees set up by a subsidiary.

“If a company gains a better reputation for the support it provides, it becomes easier to recruit foreign employees, which can be used to attract investors,” said Shigeru Uchigasaki, CEO of the consultancy firm Human Resources. Governance Leaders.

At the end of 2018, the Japanese government put in place a set of measures to help foreign nationals “Coexist” in Japanese society, before the introduction of a new visa status for highly skilled workers.

But progress has been slow in putting these ideas into practice. A project for an accreditation system for Japanese language teachers, for example, remains unfinished.

Cooperation is needed between national and local authorities to help educate the children of foreign nationals. There is also a rush to train medical interpreters for non-Japanese patients in hospitals.

The national government has essentially left it up to local authorities to determine how to help foreigners adjust to life in Japan. It faces increasing pressure to focus on foreign residents less as a source of labor and more as members of the community.

About Wendy Hall

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