TOKYO • Japan's labour shortage has pushed job-hopping to its highest level since the global financial crisis, as companies scramble for workers with experience in the rapidly ageing economy.
Job-hopping goes against the grain of Japan's work culture, where many companies hire graduates and employ them until they retire. But switching jobs for better conditions is no longer taboo amid a tightening labour market, and the trend is being led by mid-career workers.
"There's always a risk of failure. But you can't get what you want if you don't try," said Mr Hiromichi Itakura, 44, head of a medical job placement department at Saint Media, who changed jobs in January.
"I took up this job because it gives me a post with more responsibility. As a salary man, I also wanted a higher salary," he said, adding that his pay is now 20 per cent higher.
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The number of job-hoppers rose for the seventh straight year to 3.06 million last year, the highest since 2009, though it still accounts for just 4.8 per cent of the labour market. The jobless rate has stood at a near two-decade low. Big firms say the labour market is at its tightest since 1992, according to the Bank of Japan's latest "tankan"corporate survey published this week.
Though job turnover is still low relative to other major economies - the change should be good news to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been championing labour flexibility and merit-based pay - but with little success. Enhancing labour mobility is expected to help boost productivity and wages, getting Japan out of a deflationary rut.
Firms facing labour shortages are willing to pay for battle-tested workers. Electric motor maker Nidec Corp is actively hiring mid-career engineers and remunerating them for their experience. "Competition is tough for tried- and-true personnel," a company spokesman said.
Job-hoppers aged between their mid-40s and 65 or older are on the rise, hitting their highest, according to comparable data going back to 2002. "The mid-career job market is booming," said Mr Hirofumi Amano of en-japan inc, a job placement agency.