Japan at risk of losing competitiveness due to shortage of digital experts

To enhance the growth potential of the Japanese economy, it is essential to accelerate the creation of new businesses and the streamlining of operations through the use of digital technology. The development of digitally savvy personnel who can tackle these tasks should be hastened.

This year’s white paper on information and communications compiled by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry highlighted a severe shortage of human resources in Japan’s digital domain.

Sixty-eight percent of Japanese respondents cited a “human resources shortage” as a challenge for digitization in a survey involving about 3,000 companies in Japan, China, Germany and the United States, compared to 56% of Chinese respondents, 51% of German respondents and 27% of U.S. respondents. The shortage in Japan is plain to see.

In particular, a shortage of artificial intelligence and data analysis experts is more pronounced than in other countries, according to the white paper.

The center of the economy has shifted from manufacturing to service industries such as information technology. It can be said that the use of AI and big data is essential, and the depth of human talent in the digital sector has become a source of competitiveness.

The IT field has been dominated by U.S. tech giants known as GAFA. Japanese companies have had little presence in the sector. If the situation continues, Japan’s international competitiveness could sink further. Things cannot be left as they are.

The number of IT personnel in Japan is expected to increase from 1.03 million in 2018 to 1.13 million in 2030. However, that still leaves an estimated shortage of 790,000 workers.

In Japan, personnel who deal with information processing and other related tasks have been concentrated at IT firms. Companies in other fields have been reluctant to hire or develop IT personnel, according to the white paper. First and foremost, each company needs to take action.

Since fiscal 2019, Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. has been fostering in-house about 20 highly skilled big data analysts annually. JFE Steel Corp. said it will increase the number of its specialists in the field to 600 by the end of fiscal 2024.

Asahi Kasei Corp. said it has established a system to train all 40,000 employees in the group company with its own teaching materials.

It is hoped that companies will be able to shift human resources smoothly into growth fields. It will be important to improve working conditions to make it easier to attract the best and brightest to the digital sector.

It is also necessary to provide generous opportunities for career changers to retrain and acquire digital skills, through such measures as public vocational training sessions.

In the long run, it will be important to review educational frameworks.

In 2017, Shiga University became the first university in Japan to establish a data science faculty, which mainly specializes in data analysis. Although more universities are following suit, the percentage of students entering science faculties in Japan remains low compared to those in other major countries, according to the white paper.

The government intends to provide financial support for the establishment and expansion of science and engineering faculties at universities to foster highly skilled personnel for the digital sector and other fields. As there are currently few women in the digital sector, the government should also consider measures to encourage female personnel to play active roles in the field.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 19, 2022)