Employers’ perspectives on study abroad experience

Until recently, the main challenge for study abroad returnees was the unwillingness of Japanese companies to hire graduates of foreign universities, due to the fact that these companies often perceived such university graduates as unable to

Table 6.4 Ratios of employed by foreign companies and management roles

Undergraduate Undergraduate degree studied degree studied in abroad (n = 416) Japan (n = 710)

Graduate degree studied abroad (n = 353)

Graduate degree studied in Japan (n = 528)

Employed by foreign companies





Management roles





Source: Shimmi, Yonezawa, and Akiba (2018).

adapt to traditional Japanese business culture; for example, the lifetime employment system9 and the seniority-based system.10 This is felt to be because they had become too Westernised in their mind, meaning there was a greater emphasis on the individual abilities and performance and they were more self-centered rather than group oriented. Those students enrolled at Japanese universities who study abroad at partner institutions as exchange students for one to two semesters were also not always welcomed by corporate Japan because of the peculiar job-hunting and recruitment system. Japanese companies typically hire the bulk of college students as their future workers only once a year, while students are in the latter half of the third year through the first half of the fourth year.11 Throughout that nine-month period from December to September, job-hunting students go through the whole screening process, including many job fairs, aptitude and knowledge tests, and several rounds of interviews.12 If an exchange student studies at a partner university abroad from September (the third year) to June (the fourth year) as a typical junior-year abroad, that student misses the job-hunting season.

According to a survey of 1000 Japanese companies in 2011 on their recruitment plans for the following year (2012) conducted by a recruitment company, less than a quarter responded that they planned to hire Japanese students who had studied abroad. Even among leading companies with more than 1000 employees, fewer than 40% said they wanted to hire Japanese with an overseas education (as cited in Tabuchi, 2012).

However, the prolonged economic downturn and a rapidly globalising economy seem to be changing the situation gradually. Recently, Japanese companies have become more positive about recruiting graduates with study abroad experience in order to seek business opportunities and develop new overseas markets. For instance, a survey of 412 recruiters at Japanese companies on their perspectives of recruitment and study abroad experience conducted by the MEXT- Tobitate office in 2017 reported that 62.1% intended to hire graduates with study abroad experience. Also, 80.4% answered that study abroad experience would be useful in their jobs, and 75.3% said the delay of graduation or taking a leave of absence from school due to study abroad would not negatively affect the screening of job applicants (MEXT-Tobitate Office, 2017).

While, in general, employers are viewing study abroad experience more positively nowadays, another study reported that companies preferred long-term study abroad to short-term study abroad of a few weeks. As part of the policy evaluation of global human resources development, a survey of 980 companies was carried out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in 2016. Of the respondents, 47.1% answered that a study abroad period of “more than one year” is necessary in order to develop various skills, including language ability, intercultural understanding, and the ability to accept a diversity of values, followed by a period of “more than six months to one year” (35.4%). Moreover, respondents mentioned that, from their experiences of human resources management at companies, a longer study abroad period would confer more foreign language skills and intercultural competencies that could be utilised at work. The evaluation report, therefore, pointed out a mismatch between the increase in short-term study abroad by university students and corporate needs.

In addition, the report recommended that the learning outcome of shortterm study abroad programs for less than six months should be fully assessed to determine how much short-term programs have contributed to the development of those above three points; for example, language ability, intercultural understanding, and the ability to accept a diversity of values needed to foster globally minded workforce (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2017).

Lack of opportunities to use foreign language skills at work

Beyond gaining a job or the hiring process, some studies describe that returnees from studying abroad often face difficulties in finding opportunities to use foreign language skills at work at Japanese companies partly because of the job (employee) rotation system13 based on the membership-based employment.14

The JASSO’s (2012) survey of Japanese students who studied abroad reported that 22.8% of those returnees faced difficulty in finding the opportunity to utilise their acquired foreign language skills at work, although 46.3% answered that such skills were useful in their jobs. According to Yonezawa’s (2010) survey, office workers who studied abroad tended to use English at work, compared with those who did not study abroad. However, only about 15% of the surveyed workers said they frequently used English in their jobs. It seems that even though foreign language skills can be helpful in gaining a job in Japan after studying abroad, jobs which require foreign language skills are still limited at Japanese companies. However, since those two surveys were carried out more than five years ago, a follow-up study is needed to examine the current situation of this issue.

Nurturing “outward-looking” students (institutional efforts)

MEXT’s support for universities’ study abroad programs and scholarships for students has expanded the range of study abroad participants. Then a question is posted in institutions. How can universities encourage students to aim for the heights of academic and career success after their first short-term (typically up to one month) study abroad experiences as a springboard? This issue becomes even more critical when we consider the return on investment for study abroad.

In order to leverage the current increase in the numbers of short-term study abroad participants, it is crucial to provide opportunities for students to continue developing their global competencies after returning home. As an example, encouraging students to participate in longer programs could be a possibility, but efforts to reduce existing obstacles are necessary by providing adequate scholarships, solving issues related to companies’ hiring systems, and developing mechanisms to allow students to transfer credits earned abroad easily. Opportunities for international exchange on home campuses should be increased both in curricular activities, including English-taught courses and extracurricular activities, such as language exchanges, tutoring, peer-support, and buddy programs.15

In addition, in order to respond to the current scepticism about the effect of short-term study abroad programs, it is important to conduct assessments to measure the impact of these programs as well as student learning outcomes, leading to quality improvement of these short-term programs. Collecting and assessing evidence on the value of the short-term study abroad experience to develop global competencies is necessary to build support. These recently developed short-term programs are meant mainly for students with a basic level in a foreign language; more advanced programs, requiring high competency in foreign language and cross-cultural skills (necessary for project-based learning with local students in a host country) can be an additional option for students to continue developing their competencies. Developing an environment for students to utilise and build on their experiences during short-term study abroad programs will be key to making this new trend an opportunity to nurture future “outward-looking” graduates.

Discussion and concluding remarks

From the review of the previous studies on the impact of study abroad on career, it can be argued that study abroad experience is helpful in enhancing employability and promoting career advancement. However, there are some issues to be considered. First, although the career-related impact of short-term study abroad for credits was smaller than that of long-term study abroad for a degree, and such short-term studies abroad lacked the impact at the time of recruitment by employers, short-term overseas programs are still important for the improvement of students’ employability and career-related education. Considering the continuously increasing participation in short-term study abroad programs, it becomes imperative to examine the relationship between the outcomes of shortterm study abroad and career-related benefits. At the same time, it will be necessary to enhance the quality of short-term programs.

Second, in order to leverage the acquired skills of study abroad returnees at Japanese companies, employers need to reform their hiring and employment systems to utilise those skills effectively in their jobs; for instance, by introducing a job-based employment system.16 In other words, companies should give employees with study abroad experience more opportunities to use the skills acquired overseas, to increase their job satisfaction and motivation.

Nowadays, although employers have become more interested in hiring Japanese students with study abroad experience, they consider the learning outcomes of short-term study abroad experience to be limited, believing the experience to be too brief to allow students to acquire essential skills that can contribute to the expansion of their operations overseas. Accordingly, the Japanese government now emphasises the learning outcomes of short-term study abroad programs as an aspect of accountability for their funding schemes. This is because the Japanese government has invested significantly into funding and promoting outbound mobility, recognising the role that such mobility can play in revitalising Japan’s economy.

Japan faces challenges in the transition from study abroad for a degree to study abroad for credits. In the Anglophone world, study abroad for credits is already the norm. Much importance has been attached to short-term study abroad as part of the university curriculum in the form of “education abroad.” This has been further expanded to “learning abroad,” which, apart from educational experiences at other higher education institutes, now also includes volunteer work, service learning, and internships. Assessments of the learning outcomes of study abroad and of the impacts on students’ lives and careers are also carried out as part of the process. It is essential that Japanese universities collaborate with these initiatives. As the opportunities for students to gain study abroad experiences increase, universities should consider the whole period which students spend with them, from matriculation to graduation, setting out a roadmap which keeps in mind the stratification of study abroad programs and progression routes, relating study abroad to future careers or further study.


  • 1. In 2014, the budget was increased to 8.5 billion yen from 3.6 billion yen in the previous year.
  • 2. The Tobitate! (Leap for Tomorrow) Young Ambassador Program is made possible by contributions (donations) from supporting companies. For more information about the scholarship, refer to the website of the program, https://www.tobitate. mext.go.jp/about/english.html.
  • 3. Bradford (2015) explained the inward-looking issues in Japan: “Around 2010, media reports, which proclaimed that Japanese students have a “fear of studying abroad” and “hinder [the] nation’s economic growth,” became regular. These reports were bolstered by a widely reported survey conducted by the Sanno Institute of Management in 2010, which found that nearly half of the new employees at companies in Japan did not want to work overseas” (p. 22).
  • 4. The summary report of the survey can be found at http://recsie.or.jp/project/ gj5000/.
  • 5. Those 10 items are (1) Helpful in planning my career, (2) Helpful in gaining my current job, (3) Helpful in obtaining a higher salary, (4) I use knowledge and skills gained while studying abroad (or “at a Japanese university” for those who did not study abroad) in my current job, (5) I gained motivation to start a venture, (6) I gained motivation to work with an NPO/in social action, (7) My study abroad experience (“my degree was valued per se” for those who did not study abroad) was valued, (8) The language skills I gained through study abroad (or “my foreign language competencies” for those who did not study abroad) were valued, (9) The specialised knowledge and skills I gained through study abroad (or “at a Japanese university” for those who did not study abroad) were valued, and (10) My experience of communicating with foreigners was valued.
  • 6. Regarding the ratios of the age groups in the three types of surveyed people, it is noted that the “Undergraduate credits studied abroad” had a larger proportion of individuals who were in their 20’s than the “Undergraduate degree studied abroad” and “Undergraduate degree studied in Japan” (see Table 6.2).
  • 7. The percentage in management roles is the total proportion of those in the “executive/board member class” and in the “managerial class.”
  • 8. In general, salaries are higher, promotion is faster, and more promotional opportunities are given at foreign companies than those at domestic companies in Japan.
  • 9. Lifetime employment refers to a system in which a person is employed by the same company from getting a job after university graduation until retirement. Although this is not clearly stated within employment contracts, it is customarily expected in Japan that new recruits and companies tacitly agree to such practice (JASSO, 2018).
  • 10. This refers to a system in which employees are assigned positions and pay increases in accordance with the number of years they have worked for the company and their age. 'Ihe system is based on the prerequisite that employees will accumulate work skills and know-how the longer they work for the company and the older they get. Then these skills and know-how will be reflected back on the company performance in the long run (JASSO, 2018).
  • 11. The Japanese academic year commences in April and ends in March.
  • 12. For more information about the job-hunting and recruitment system in Japan, refer to JASSO (2018), Job Hunting Guide for International Students, https://www.jasso. go.jp/en/study_j/job/guide.html.
  • 13. An employer rotates their employees’ assigned jobs throughout their employment. It is designed to promote flexibility of employees and to keep employees interested into staying with the company/organisation which employs them. In Japan, the philosophy of this system is to build a cadre of generalists by rotating them through different locations and positions (Kopp, 2012).
  • 14. It is a system of employment that does not limit duties, place of work, or working hours. 'Ihe main feature of this style of employment is that employees are evaluated in accordance with their ability to perform all duties as generalists. Under this system, companies offer unlimited work in exchange for stable employment and treatment. The main feature of this system is that the jobs and workplaces they are assigned are not predetermined, so they can be relocated to any position at the discretion of the company (JASSO, 2018).
  • 15. The language exchanges program is that two students with a different mother tongue teach their native language with each other by taking a turn. The tutoring program is that a domestic, graduate student provides an international, undergraduate student with academic support. The peer-support program is that a domestic student offers support to an international student enrolled in the same program and the same year. The buddy program is that a domestic student gives social support for a paired international student.
  • 16. It is a system of employment that limits duties and place of work. Under this system, the job description is clearly defined and capabilities are evaluated in accordance with skill levels as specialists (JASSO, 2018).
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