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Essential skills of a working adult in the era of the 100-year life

‘Right to a career’ serves as compass for economic and social changes

Hosei University professor emeritus Yasuo Suwa stressed the importance of the right to a career to enable individuals to work on their own terms.
Hosei University professor emeritus Yasuo Suwa stressed the importance of the right to a career to enable individuals to work on their own terms.

In the era of the 100-year life, “why do people work?” and “how do people want to work?” are the fundamental questions that individuals of all generations will inevitably face in continuing to pursue active occupational roles with motivation and a sense of satisfaction.

The concept of one’s “right to a career” could provide one possible answer. The proponent of this philosophy is Yasuo Suwa, professor emeritus of Hosei University in Tokyo. He describes it as a compass to handle the challenges of economy and society.

What would this right potentially bring to both workers and companies? The METI Journal asked Suwa about this concept.

Question: The “right to a career” is a somewhat unfamiliar term. Could you explain what it is?

Suwa: It is considered a right for workers and people who are willing to work to select a desired job according to their motivation and ability, pursuing happiness through their working career.

Question: The freedom to choose one’s occupation and the pursuit of happiness are rights stated in the Constitution, correct?

Suwa: That’s right. There are relevant rights stipulated in the Constitution that link to working and the formulation of careers such as the respect as individuals and pursuit of happiness (both in Article 13), prohibition of involuntary servitude (Article 18), freedom to choose an occupation (Article 22), the right to receive an equal education (Article 26) and the right to work (Article 27).

The philosophy of one’s right to a career stands out clearly if such rights, originally spread across the Constitution, are coordinated and systematized in the context of an individual’s working life.

Namely, this right sets out to respect and explicitly position life within the field of law, enabling personal growth through acknowledging the importance of voluntarily deciding the progression of one’s life, from preparation for capacity-building through continuous education and learning, followed by a career and retirement subsequently; making life meaningful with one’s occupation as its core. I proposed this idea more than 20 years ago.

Same ideal goal

Question: The right to a career seems to have garnered attention these days. Do you think it’s because people are pursuing a society methodically shaped by this philosophy in the era of the 100-year life?

Suwa: I suppose so. I initially came up with this notion because I was working on the issue of part-time workers whose experience and skills didn’t lead to improved treatment.

Fundamentally, I am aware of such issues, as a variety of work styles should be acknowledged, and at the same time, education and training needs to be given to people regardless of whether they are full-time workers or not. I also think that appropriate policy measures should be applied to those who have devoted themselves to self-improvement.

In light of the right to a career, I’m sure that we must be able to further promote the theme of how individuals can continue working in a way that suits them amid the extension of an individual, professional life.

Question: While an individual is supposed to have the right to a career, companies possess authority over personnel issues. Do you think it will create tension between the two sides?

Suwa: Japan has achieved economic growth through the strength of teams and the middle class as the source of competitiveness.

Currently, the average age of full-time, year-round salaried workers in the private sector is 46. Company-wide selection that leads to future promotion is conducted among those who are around the age of 40 at many firms. Should a considerable number of those who become disappointed in their late 40s lose motivation to work as a result of this selection, companies cannot expect an increase in productivity and in additional value, even if those people are secured members of the labor force.

I think we could see growth on both the company and individual sides if they, through dialogue, position the right to a career as a standard to be respected and cooperate in improving the environment and crafting supportive measures.

Question: You say workers need to not only insist on their rights, but also make relevant efforts to have a satisfactory career. It’s indeed a philosophy of career ownership, isn’t it?

Suwa: From what I’ve observed, Japanese middle-aged adults are reluctant to learn. It’s also true that it’s hard for them to do so because an adequate environment is not in place. It’s not something that can be observed in other countries.

The reasons behind this phenomenon can be attributed to several factors, including a personnel system of not being able to foresee one’s future career, a difficult social environment for job transfers, chronic, long hours and the difficulty of taking extended paid holidays. From the standpoint of the right to a career, society should further promote opportunities of relearning for adults.

Question: The right to a career is not yet part of law; it is still a speculative idea. How do you want it to be established and developed?

Suwa: I know there are issues to be solved regarding enshrining it as law.

So, for the time being, I hope that relevant ministries will make policy engagements on various fronts, including education, occupational skills development and nurturing industrial personnel, through a consensus on the idea of respecting individual careers.

I then expect relevant laws to be enacted, which would prompt related policies to be implemented.

To keep playing active roles in work in the era of the 100-year life, people would need to face questions such as why they work and how they want to work. | GETTY IMAGES

Proactive attitudes essential

Question: We have a situation where individuals are encouraged to relearn, while companies are required to improve their added value by shoring up human resources. The right to a career would seem to provide a criteria for both of them when the two sides reflect their ideas respectively, correct?

Suwa: Based on a consistent philosophy, we all should now address the changes proactively, not be transfixed in the face of the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution and chronic shortage of human resources. To that end, the right to a career would serve as a compass.

I sincerely hope that corporate management with such a philosophy, and the idea of respecting individuals, will spread widely across society.


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