Job seekers and offers in Tohoku still mismatched

by Kizuna Foundation. Average Reading Time: almost 4 minutes.

FUKUSHIMA – The needs of employers and job seekers are mismatched in the Tohoku region, reeling still from the major earthquake and tsunami two years ago.

The ratio of job offers to seekers has improved sharply in the three prefectures hit hardest by the disaster — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima — but the offers are concentrated in construction and retail, which are both related to disaster reconstruction. Popular clerical and manufacturing posts are less plentiful. “The job ratio shows that the economic momentum is upward, but there’s a wide gap between the real situation and the figures,” said Minoru Kikuta, head of the Hello Work public job placement center in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture. The prefecture’s seasonally adjusted effective job offers-to-seekers ratio in January rose to 1.23, the second-highest nationwide for two months straight. The national average was 0.85 in the same month. Notably, before seasonal adjustment, the ratio in the northeastern part of the prefecture, some 25 km from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, stood at 2.31, an advantage for job seekers. The seasonally adjusted ratio has improved in line with progress in reconstruction after falling to 0.49 percent in April 2011, immediately after the calamity. But job offers are concentrated in the construction, medical and retail industries, which often require qualifications and experience. The unadjusted ratios for January were high at 3.51 for builders, 2.96 for nurses and 1.46 for salesclerks at retail stores. By contrast, the ratios were low at 0.38 for clerical posts and 0.61 for manufacturers.

“We cannot recruit skilled job seekers even using Hello Work,” a senior official at a chamber of commerce in eastern Fukushima said.

The impact of contamination from the nuclear accident is also severe. Since the disaster, the population in Minamisoma has shrunk to some 50,000 from around 70,000 as families with small children flee the city. “We face a dangerous situation. Even when the job ratio increases, young people and workers keep leaving the city,” a senior official of Minamisoma said, paying close attention to population moves in April, a peak period for changing schools.

Meanwhile, ratios are also on the rise in Iwate and Miyagi, although job offers tend to be focused in certain industries. In coastal areas hit hard by the tsunami, “we are short of workers despite the restart of seafood-processing plants,” an official at the city government of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, said.

So Fujine, a 27-year-old man living in temporary housing in the coastal town of Otsuchi in Iwate, is looking for a full-time post while working part time at convenience stores. “I thought reconstruction would create jobs, but I can’t find anything. I’m thinking about starting to study to be an architect or to look for a job in Morioka (Iwate’s capital),” he said with a gloomy face.

Before the disaster, the fishery sector was buoyant in the coastal areas in Iwate and Miyagi, with local women working at seafood-processing companies. But many people are still in temporary housing far from their original homes, which were washed away by tsunami. “The number of those wishing to work at seafood companies is falling with no means of transportation, and due to the death of family members who could take care of their children,” an official at the Miyagi Prefectural Government’s labor department said.

A 39-year-old man in Ishinomaki, the fishing port city in Miyagi, is doing part-time work while looking for a sales job. “If I become a full-time employee at a construction company, reconstruction work will probably end in about three years,” the man said, doubting it will be able to support his family. He used to be part of the staff of a company that sold boxes used to distribute fresh fish. “I don’t have any regrets about the fishery business,” he said. “After surviving the tsunami, I don’t want to work in coastal areas.”

Kazuya Hatakeyama, a director at East Japan Foods Co. in an area of Ishinomaki submerged by tsunami, said: “Sales remain at 80 percent of the level before the disaster,” with the number of employees standing at some 50, down from the predisaster figure of around 90. Earnings at the company are leveling off due to workforce shortages.

To resolve such employment mismatches, the labor ministry is urging companies looking for new workers to raise salaries and offer flexible working hours. For the construction industry, where the problem is serious, the ministry in late January started to offer financial support for the acquisition of new technologies and skill sets, such as crane operation. For Fukushima, the ministry will help with expenses for recruitment seminars and work-experience training by municipalities near the stricken nuclear plant beginning in fiscal 2013 to help support evacuees who wish to return to the prefecture to find jobs.

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