Create environment that encourages more interest among young people

Even with remarkable technology, nothing can be manufactured if there are no workers on the factory floor to make the products. A work environment must be created that values the results of training and helps young people feel drawn to manufacturing.

For resource-limited Japan to survive amid global competition, it needs to continue to make high-quality, high-value-added products. No matter how automated the production process becomes through advanced technology, it is still human beings who ultimately deal with mechanical glitches and other problems.

Research and development and the fostering of shop-floor engineers can be said to be the wheels of the car.

At the WorldSkills Competition 2022 Special Edition this autumn that drew about 1,000 participants from 56 countries and regions, Japan won gold medals in eight skill categories, including Information Network Cabling and Autobody Repair, and ranked third for most top places.

The competition was open to on-site technicians up to their early 20s. Mechanical Engineering CAD, Electronics and Bakery were among the 61 categories in which participants competed for accuracy in handling given tasks and other expertise. From Japan, 59 people advanced from the domestic round.

At the competition, which is held almost biennially, Japan has topped the gold-medal ranking eight times in the past, but ranked seventh last time and ninth the time before that. Creating a reinforcement plan for each skill, studying the competition’s evaluation criteria and incorporating them into daily training contributed to the rebound in Japan’s performance.

Toyota Motor Corp., whose employees won three gold medals, has a support system in place for the competition that includes providing advanced technical training.

Companies benefit in that the personnel who are qualified for international contests raise the overall level of technical skills in the workplace and become future leaders there.

Takahashi Kakoubu, a joinery maker in Obihiro, Hokkaido, is a small company with about 40 employees, but it sends entries to the competition, and has established a reward system based on their skills. The company says such efforts contribute to greater name recognition and securing talent, and to attracting clients, including large companies.

These efforts are important because the number of technical high schools that teach the skills required on the manufacturing floor has been decreasing, exacerbating the labor shortage in the field.

Many young people are frustrated because they are unable to apply the skills they learned at technical high schools and technical colleges in their place of employment, while wages are kept down. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to attract ambitious workers.

The central and local governments need to support companies that strive to raise their employees’ skills and how they are treated. Efforts should also be made to raise interest in children, such as by increasing the number of occasions for elementary and junior high school students to visit production sites and experience building something themselves.

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