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Lifetime Employment? No Thanks

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WITH all of the recent layoffs in corporate America, college students aiming for management positions might be expected to appreciate corporate Japan's practice of guaranteeing employment during good times or bad.


Management majors were "universally appalled" when the concept was explained to Regena Farnsworth's human resources management class by Shinji Arita, a United States-based Japanese executive, last week at Texas A&M University's Japan-US Business Day.

"How could anybody stand to work for the same organization all his life?" Prof. Farnsworth's students debated later. "No way" were they interested, she says.

"After a while, I get bored with things," confirms Craig Rotter, a senior who hopes to work in politics in Austin. "As long as my personal goals are met, I wouldn't see a reason to change."

Another student, Susan Lee, noted that along with lifetime employment come demands that leave far less time for the family. "I personally don't feel that it's worth the sacrifice," she says.

Japanese firms employ 400,000 Americans in the US, a number that continues to grow.

In Japan, Mr. Arita says, for companies with 1,000 or more employees, 82 percent of white-collar workers and 53 percent of blue-collar workers spend their entire career with one employer. The percentages fall to 40 and 23, respectively, for companies with 10-99 employees. Arita says the Japanese system produces better blue collar workers; the US system, better engineers.

US companies usually hire the most experienced person to meet an immediate need, while Japanese companies hire college graduates and train them for future work. Thus new hires have a better chance of immediate fulfillment in the US but long-term fulfillment in Japan, he says.

Salaries are higher in the US than in Japan. But a recession leads to layoffs and loss of confidence by employees in their US company. In Japan, layoffs are avoided by such measures as overtime reductions, temporary reassignments, and bonus and salary cuts. Preserving jobs inspires employee confidence and productivity, Arita says.

Farnsworth's "22-year-olds apparently are not as impressed with security as we are," she says. She attributes that attitude to their belief that they possess unique, superior abilities and that job hopping is a shorter road to salary increases than steady employment is.


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