The employment environment in Japan is becoming more severe because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government must help people to change jobs and re-enter the workforce in industries facing labour shortages.

According to Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry, 63,000 people have been laid off, had their contracts terminated, or risk losing their jobs due to Covid-19. The unemployment rate deteriorated for the second consecutive month in August, reaching three per cent. The future of the employment situation needs to be monitored closely.

Helping to stem the rise in unemployment are special measures to provide generous employment adjustment subsidies that cover part of the leave allowances for people including non-regular workers.

The government intends to gradually scale back the special measures from the beginning of next year, but an extension could be considered depending on the employment situation.

With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, there are fears that the corporate downturn may be prolonged. It will possibly be difficult to maintain employment. Going forward, it is important for the government to focus on measures to make it easier for people to find new jobs, even if they have been laid off.

In its budget request for the next fiscal year, the labour ministry included measures to promote the movement of workers to industries with labour shortages and emerging industries.

An industry typically facing labour shortages is the nursing care sector. The ministry plans to set up a system in which up to 200,000 yen ($1,900) will be loaned to people who receive public employment training and start working as caregivers. If they work for a certain period of time, they will be exempt from paying back the loan.

Improving the overall treatment of care workers is key to attracting human resources, not simply providing temporary support. An environment should be established to ease the burdens of caregivers and allow them to focus on providing care by utilising information technology and diverse human resources.

It is desirable for workers to be able to move into new jobs as smoothly as possible without a gap in employment.

The ministry intends to expand the role of the Industrial Employment Stabilisation Centre to support “labour mobility without unemployment”. It plans to increase the number of counsellors at the centre’s offices in each prefecture to strengthen its function as a bridge connecting companies that are overemployed and those that are underemployed free of charge.

Currently, the centre helps about 9,000 people change jobs each year. Many of the workers change industries, such as a man in his 50s who had a sales position in the apparel industry and moved to the non-life insurance industry. The postings sometimes take the form of secondments to reduce the burden on the companies accepting workers.

Public vocational training, which is currently biased toward developing skills in the construction field, is not sufficient. Courses related to information technology and digitisation in various fields of businesses should be increased to meet the needs of companies and job seekers. This would also promote a shift in the industrial structure.