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back to index backASIAtalk November,  2005

Foreign Parts Makers Are Having a Tough Time Finding Japanese Engineers

Foreign auto parts makers trying to crack the Japanese market are encountering a new barrier of sorts: They can't find enough Japanese engineers to fill their staffs, Nikkan Jidosha reported.

With Japanese automakers rapidly expanding global production while the Detroit Three are closing plants, it's plain to most parts suppliers which side of the bread is getting buttered these days. American and European parts suppliers have been trying to break into Japan for some time, with mixed successes and setbacks. But now, as Toyota moves toward replacing GM as the world's largest automaker, they are redoubling their efforts to win Japanese orders.

Local R&D Operations

A major part of that effort is the creation of local R&D operations in Japan that in theory should let the foreign makers compete effectively with Japanese suppliers, who work closely with their automaker clients. The automakers increasingly demand that suppliers work with them right from the start of new model design. Of course that helps the suppliers get their components and modules adopted as integral parts of the vehicles. We must be able to respond quickly to clients' demands if we are to land orders,” an executive of one foreign supplier told the paper.

But to compete on the Japanese suppliers's home turf, the foreign companies need to hire first rate, Japanese engineers who are bilingual enough to communicate with both the Japanese clients and their colleagues abroad.

Competitve Pay

That's easier said than done, the paper observed. Though the foreign suppliers are able to offer competitive pay packages, they're up against a combination of factors that is making things tough.

To start with, the Japanese automakers themselves are on a hiring binge because they need engineers to push ahead with their worldwide expansion. That leaves both smaller domestic manufacturers and foreign firms scrambling for a dwindling pool of available Japanese engineers. The number of grads coming out of Japanese engineering schools these days is declining sharply.

Unpopular Career

The reasons are partly a baby bust now well into its third decade—and partly the fact that scientific and engineering careers are not so popular with Japanese youngsters, many of whom seem to think that they require too much hard work. In fact, Japanese manufacturers have been wringing their hands for years over a fear that monozukuri, or the art of making things, will die out in Japan unless the country does something to rejuvenate the interest of young people in manufacturing science. And even for the declining quotient of those who do have an interest, the foreign companies are less attractive precisely because they are mere suppliers. As one foreign exec acknowledged, they simply can't offer the same range of engineering challenges as an auto assembler.

Foreign Language Skills

In a labor market where engineers can pick and choose, foreign companies also suffer from the fact that their names are not as well known in Japan. On top of that, they generally need people who not only have technical skills but a good command of English or some other foreign language. Naturally, people with that kind of training are also highly attractive to automakers — who can hold out prospects of advancement and overseas assignments that just aren't part of the job description at the foreign suppliers.

Source: Japan Automotive Digest - GAI

For more information on the Japan Automotive Digest, click here.

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