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WORK FIT: A Helping Hand for Youth in Japan

Reflecting our corporate mission of "Opportunities for Life.", Recruit Group offers a free employment support program called WORK FIT to help young people take the first step towards becoming self-reliant adults.

WORK FIT supports the employability and life chances of various groups by applying knowledge that Recruit Group has built up in the human resources field. The program is tailored to groups as such as the unemployed, residents of orphanages and care homes, college students and young mothers in Japan, with approximately 30,000 people joining the program to date (as of March 2019).

To learn more, we visited a part-time high school in Tokyo where the program had been introduced. On this visit, we could explore the real issues facing young people and hear more about the kinds of support they need.

Regardless of circumstances, all students deserve an equal chance

We interviewed a group of around 10 students, including Japanese nationals and those from China and Southeast Asian countries. Classes at this school begin in the evening and many students attend after working a part-time job during the day. The class teacher told us:

"We have students with a wide variety of backgrounds. Among the Japanese students, there are many who have had periods of absenteeism from school, so they aren't used to being part of a group. Among the non-Japanese students, there are many who followed their parents to Japan and didn't necessarily choose to be here."

Although the curriculum itself does not differ much from other high schools in Japan, this school decided to introduce WORK FIT with a view to the future of its students. The class teacher explained why:

"WORK FIT helps to foster self-awareness in our students. Our non-Japanese students, for example, are faced with different options such as returning to their home country to finish their education, or staying in Japan and looking for a job. But whichever course they take, they also face a lot of uncertainty. That's why it's important to develop self-awareness so you can at least act independently in making your way in the world."

Cultivating strengths is more important than correcting weaknesses

WORK FIT program at this school is designed to identify each student's potential within the context of group work. Students are encouraged to articulate their own strengths and capabilities, presenting these ideas to classmates and receiving feedback from everyone in the group.

Specifically, students were asked to recall past experiences during which they could demonstrate their strengths. These strengths were then grouped into three categories - interpersonal skills, self-directed strengths, and subject knowledge - to uncover 'strength keywords' they can use in a one-minute speech to the rest of the group. Afterwards, students also listened to feedback that highlighted other possible strengths they hadn't noticed for themselves.

By working in small groups and receiving objective and positive feedback from others, WORK FIT participants discover strengths they didn't know they had, which gives them a boost in self-esteem. The program was facilitated by Takeshi Hoshika, a career development coach with over 13 years' experience. He told us more about the program:

"I was providing career support to university students and new employees, but actually many young people are asking the same questions: 'What do I really want to do?' and 'Will society let me do that?' Many young people enter adulthood without understanding what they are good at, so I wanted to give them a chance to discover their strengths and how they might apply those in society, with help from their peers."

Hoshika also wanted to communicate the importance of expressing negative emotions such as anxiety, fear and anger, and the importance of accepting and harnessing different personality types:

"In Japan, we often use a single measure such as exam results, so when we don't get the answers correct it can reinforce the idea that we're useless. There's a tendency to penalize mistakes, which leads to a feeling that you cannot improve yourself unless you correct your weakest points. Instead, what I want to tell people is that you can improve yourself even more by developing your strengths.

"I think we're in an era where it's becoming possible to lead your own life and not conform to a fixed ideal. On the contrary, it pays not to conform. Awareness and development of individual talents empowers people to live their own life in society. That's what I want people to feel."

Self-confidence results from a deeper self-awareness

WORK FIT program at a part-time high school in Tokyo

On this occasion, the students each gave two speeches, one at the beginning and one at the end of the workshop.

After the first speech, students looked back at the points that were raised by the group, marking the points they were happy to hear and the points that surprised them. Then came the second speech. There was a visible change in the students who had spoken without much confidence the first time around. This time they spoke more confidently, making eye contact with the others, having already formed a mutual understanding.

The class teacher noted the students' response to the program:

"In my dealings with them so far, I've seen how the students' attitudes differ according to whether or not they are recognized as individuals.

"Today they were given a chance to communicate something about themselves as individuals. I think the experience of looking back and reflecting deeply about themselves, and then having their peers listen and approve will certainly have boosted their confidence.

"They may be faced with worry and uncertainty, but I want the students to work positively on their chosen path."

A society in which everyone can play their own role

After the program, the facilitator Hoshika reflected:

"If I try once more to express in words what WORK FIT is all about, I'd say it's an opportunity to find and regain one's true self, before deciding on a job or occupation. Joining the workshop is a chance for everyone to discover their own strengths. It was great to see the happiness on the faces of so many students after receiving feedback from their peers."

The teacher in charge of the students also added:

"They could recognize their own strengths and personalities and raise their self-esteem thanks to the advice of their peers. I really felt again how WORK FIT demonstrates the value of continuing to believe in each person's potential."

Japan is seeing a declining birthrate and an aging population, leading to a decline in the working population. As the labor shortage has worsened, attention has focused on social advancement for various groups including women, seniors, foreigners, and people with disabilities in order to realize a society where every individual can work in a way that suits them best.

There are also young people who lack interpersonal skills, who don't have confidence in themselves, who cannot find the right job, or who simply don't know where to start in the first place. Bringing these people into the workforce is now a social issue in Japan. WORK FIT is Recruit's attempt to solve it.