Saturday, January 15, 2011

young generation pursues stability over promotion

This autumn, the Japanese media has been jubilant over the announcement that two compatriots were named to receive the Nobel Prize for chemistry. But looking at the trend toward introverted behavior that’s so apparent among the younger generation, Shukan Post (Nov 5) offers survey data that suggests such laudable achievements may be less likely to occur in the future.

In one of three articles jointly titled “The theory of young people leading to the nation’s downfall,” the magazine examines the laid-back younger set, and the implications in academia and business.

Take the number of Japanese researchers on extended stays abroad, now down by half from its peak. Last year, only 3,739 Japanese spent one month or longer conducting academic or private research outside the country. In 2000, the figure was 7,674.

Out of a total of 666 non-American students who have attended professor Michael Sandel’s long-running “Justice” lecture course at Harvard University, just five have been Japanese—compared to 42 South Koreans, 36 Chinese, 22 Singaporeans and 20 Indians. Overall, the fewer than 30,000 Japanese now enrolled in U.S. institutions pale in comparison to the figures for students from other countries.

Among students from foreign institutions earning doctorates in the U.S., those from the elite University of Tokyo ranked 425th overall, with 23. In first place was Beijing’s Tsinghua University, with 472 candidates. Chinese institutions accounted for three of the top 10.

Japanese are also showing signs of falling further behind in realm of global business as well. According to a survey by the Sanno Institute of Management, 49% of new company freshmen in 2010 said they had no desire to work abroad. The responses were 29.2% in 2001 and 28.7% in 2004, but began to rise sharply from 2007, when 36.2% said they wanted to remain in Japan.

Another significant change among new hirees was that 71.1% of survey respondents this year said they aspired to lifetime careers with the same employer. Ten years ago, the figure had been roughly 50%.

Japan’s public servants show a similar lack of initiative. In recent years, the number of applicants to take examinations, required to move up the promotion ladder, are reported to have declined sharply. Many prefer to put emphasis on personal activities or spending more time with their families.

The disregard for ambition, moreover, appears to apply equally for both males and females. A survey of males and females in their 20s to 40s, conducted by JTB Motivation, determined that the type of person least desired as a “lover,” was “a person driven by ambition, who is obsessed with gaining rank or promotion.” The response, voiced by 40%, was the highest among both genders.

It appears that more young people lack the desire to strike out on their own.

“I was surprised to see a male student who came to a recruiting interview accompanied by a parent,” a personnel manager at a logistics firm tells Shukan Post. “I don’t think someone so attached to his parents can be expected to do good work. He didn’t get the job.”

Human resources training consultant Naomi Hashimoto also expressed concern over the attitudes shown by members of the younger generation.

“A lot of these ‘laid-back company employees’ in their 20s seem to lack common sense,” she says. “New hirees at a regional bank didn’t even know how to pour tea. And as members of the cell phone generation, they have trouble responding to telephone calls from people they don’t know.”

Sure, newbies are always awkward when they encounter unfamiliar things for the first time. But growth can’t be achieved without desire for self-improvement and ambition, and the lack thereof may pose a serious threat for the future of business.

“Now, you no longer see workers who aspire to rise to the top of the ladder and become president of a company,” observes professor Hajime Ota of Doshisha University. “Under the current hard times, a title only means heavier responsibilities, with less esteem or money to go with it. Even after the system of lifetime employment collapsed, the system of merit-based worker assessments didn’t become widespread. Rather than seek jobs that just pile on more responsibility, I think it’s inevitable that more young people would prefer job security.”

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