People live to work in Japan, dedicating almost all their waking hours to their work. Competition is tough at workplaces and burnout is not uncommon. / Photo: Pia Heikkilä

Lifelong learning responds to Japan’s socio-economic change

Feature. Japan is slowly waking up to women’s importance in contributing to the country’s growth. Adult education can help support women’s careers as they seek better opportunities at workplace.

21.12.2017

Mizaki Nozawa is both ambitious and passionate about her future. The Tokyo-based housewife is planning to start an evening class early next year to help her to climb back into a career ladder.

“My aim to complete a business administration course to update my skills. I have already enrolled to an evening course at a local college,” she says.

She has two children ages 12 and 14. According to Nozawa, the children no longer need her as much as they used to, which means she is considering returning to work, after over a decade at home.

She worked as a secretary in a large bank before.

“The days [at the bank] were long and the climate pressurised, so this time I am looking for something that would fit around my family life,” she says.

She worries about her IT-skills being out of date.

“Technology has advanced a lot in ten years. I need to brush up on various skills and software,” she says.

For Nozawa, doing an evening course can help her to become more independent and boost her confidence.

“When you are out of regular work for a long time caring for your children, you can be in danger of losing your self-worth,” she says.

“More of my friends have decided to go back to their careers and I became encouraged by their example,” she adds.

On average about 60% of women drop out of work after they have children. So did Mizaki Nozawa, but now she is hoping to climb back into a career ladder. / Photo: Pia Heikkilä

Women stuck in traditional roles

People live to work in Japan, dedicating almost all their waking hours to their work. Competition is tough at workplaces and burnout is not uncommon.

For decades the Japanese society has favoured men at work place due to the demands on one’s career. Combining children and high-pressure work environment has been difficult and most women would opt out.

Millions of Japanese women stay at home until the children are ready to leave home, which often can mean decades.

“Traditionally women workforce was perceived as workers who would leave the workplace to get married and have children. As such they were given minor roles to play in the company,” says Eugenia A. Medrano, the director of Continuing Education at Tokyo’s Temple University.

Millions of Japanese women stay at home until the children are ready to leave home, which often can mean decades. On average about 60% of women drop out of work after they have children and returning to work has been increasingly difficult, according to the country’s labour ministry.

It comes as no surprise that Japanese women make up the majority of country’s part-time and contract workers and hold fewer upper-level management positions than women in other developed nations.

According to a study by the global consultancy PwC Japanese women held just 3.1% of board seats in companies. This in comparison to US 19.2% and Finland 30%.

Women in Japan face cultural constraints, such as the social expectations of traditional gender roles, which according to experts, is hampering down progress. Lack of decent child support is another reason women often are forced to stay at home.

Realising women’s economic importance

Over the last few years, Japan has made a big push to get more women into the workforce.

The country’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants more women to enter the workforce to increase both labour output and boost women’s income, which, would mean an increase in spending and overall economic growth.

Today Japan is going through a transition where women are expected to contribute both in work and at home.

Since Abe came to power in 2012, the number of Japanese women entering the workforce has gone up. According to OECD, the female participation rate was at 66.0% in 2014 – the highest level in the past 15 years – compared with 63.0% in 2011.

Today Japan is going through a transition where women are expected to contribute both in work and at home.

“With the cost of raising children and providing for their education going up, it is no longer ideal to have just one breadwinner in the family,” says Medrano.

Adult learning supports change in society

Traditionally, going back to school as an adult in Japan has been seen as a supplementary activity to further one’s career, and courses are undertaken to speed up promotion.

Many companies sponsor adult education courses as they can be costly for the individual.

But in recent years, women like Nozawa have been increasingly showing interest in adult learning. Tokyo’s Temple University has 63% of female students taking part in their continuing education programmes.

Now that more women are given more opportunities in Japanese society, adult education institutions too have started to focus on offering opportunities for women and courses for professional skills updating.

According to Tokyo Technical Institute, which offers non-degree courses, such as renewable energy and environmental studies, certain traditionally male-focused courses have become popular amongst females wanting to improve their chances on the job market.

Women in Japan are well poised to take advantage of the future, empower themselves with lifelong learning offering support along the way.

But it is not just housewives who want to improve their skills. Working women too, have realised the value of continuing education, says Medrano.

“By improving their skills and knowledge applicable to the workplace, women become more empowered and are promoted to higher managerial positions in their company, some involving decision-making,” she says.

The government aims to have women occupy 30 percent of the country’s boardrooms by 2020.

“Multinational companies in Japan are taking advantage of women’s participation and involvement in their companies,” Medrano says.

Women in Japan are well poised to take advantage of the future, empower themselves with lifelong learning offering support along the way.

“Psychologically, women have also become empowered by continuing their education — and companies cannot afford to ignore their potential to improve the company’s bottom line,” Medrano adds.