If the statistic that just 4% of the Japanese population speak sufficient English to get by in a business environment does not worry the corporate world here, then it should. It is, however, music to the ears of Basil Le Roux.
“Already, bilingual, qualified and experienced candidates are able to cherry-pick the best positions”, said Le Roux, managing director of Japan operations for recruitment specialists Michael Page.
“And the predictions are for 1.8mn fewer workers in Japan over the coming 10 years”, he added. “That means that the best candidates are going to be very much in demand”.
That perfect storm of a shrinking workforce and English capabilities at a plateau when the language is increasingly the preferred form of communication for international business means that Le Roux is confident the outlook is rosy for Michael Page in Japan.
Indeed, the firm is so confident of its solid future in the Japanese market that it is already seeking to expand its personnel and operations.
“Our staff has grown from 45 consultants when I first arrived and we’re up to 90 today”, said South Africa-born Le Roux, who first came to Tokyo in July 2011. “That means we are outgrowing our present offices and we are already looking to move into new premises”.
Examining office space around the city has convinced 40-year-old Le Roux that the outlook—at least in the run-up to Tokyo hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020—is encouraging.
“Assuming the global economy is stable, I think the outlook for the next four or five years is very positive”, he said. “I’ve been looking at new office space and the amount of construction that is going on in the city is just incredible.
“In the Otemachi district alone, they are creating office space for 250,000 people”, he added. “And all that positive sentiment has a knock-on impact on our business”.
Founded in 1976 and based in London, PageGroup initially focused on placing accountants in permanent positions in Britain. After proving successful in London, the firm swiftly opened offices in Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Bristol, before venturing overseas—first to Australia—in 1985.
May 2016 will mark PageGroup’s 15th year of operations in Japan. It has a network of 153 offices in 35 countries, employing more than 5,600 people. Listed on the London Stock Exchange since 1988, the group recorded a gross profit of £532.7mn in 2014.
“In the early years, the company grew on the back of the banking sector”, Le Roux said. “And it was very quickly realised that the company needed to be here in Tokyo because it was one of the world’s three or four global banking hubs”.
While Japan’s bubble had already burst, plenty of foreign banks had already set up operations here and were in need of qualified and capable staff, Le Roux said. Equally, firms in other business sectors had made significant inroads into Japan and wanted to sign up the most talented employees available.
Before the Lehman Shock in 2008, the banking sector accounted for about 70% of Michael Page business in Japan. This has fallen to about 10%, but other sectors have risen to the fore in terms of recruitment needs.
Some 80% of the businesses that Michael Page assists in finding new staff are foreign, with the technology sector currently the largest sector for new staff. Firms such as Apple and Microsoft are constantly looking for new employees, while virtually all require constant upgrades to their IT systems.
At present, marketing is faring well, Le Roux said, reflecting the fact that the majority of foreign entities’ operations here are in the form of sales rather than manufacturing. There is also constant demand for experts in the legal and human resources fields.
The competition in the industry means, however, that Michael Page’s consultants in Tokyo are constantly striving to provide the best possible services.
“It is all about providing a level of service that is superior to that of our competitors”, Le Roux said.
“It’s about constantly building our knowledge of the market and people, so that when a candidate comes onto the market, he or she instantly recognises the Michael Page brand. They then register with us because they trust us to find the best opportunity for them”, he added.