The challenges Japanese companies face today in recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce are well-documented and are set to become even greater in the coming decades — given the country’s demographics of an ageing population and a low birth-rate. However, female and older workers remain hugely underleveraged sections of the talent pool. FocusCore Advisory, the consulting arm of the FocusCore Group, is in a position to help companies tap these two available human resources.
FocusCore was founded in Tokyo, and now also operates in Hong Kong, Myanmar and Singapore. Its advisory services arm specialises in providing businesses with senior contract consulting, accounting, and finance professionals, and acts as a hybrid between a recruiting firm and consulting firm. According to Jivago Matsuoka, managing partner of FocusCore Advisory, it provides greater support than the typical recruiter — to the contractor after they begin work, as well as to the client.
“When I worked at big recruitment firms, it was very transactional,” says Matsuoka. “The moment a candidate gets a job, the work is done and the recruitment consultant is already on to the next deal — which is understandable as it’s a numbers game and they have to keep placing people. We see a lot of extra value we can add for the client and the contractor by spending a lot of time with them.”
This process involves ensuring that the contractor is “happy, gaining new skills and making progress,” according to Matsuoka. It also includes requesting weekly status reports, managing expectations on both sides and ongoing training.
Companies often need extra professional help when executing large projects, during M&A activity, at the end of the financial year, or when hiring a full-time employee wouldn’t be practical.
“The goal is to have every candidate acting as a true consultant,” explains Matsuoka. “But the reality is that the contracts are often to fill positions in urgent situations, such as when someone has resigned and the CFO needs someone for a few months to help close the books. Our job is to make the CFO look good.”
Responding to the unfavourable attitudes towards contract work of both candidates and clients remains a major challenge, according to Matsuoka.
“A lot of people in Japan still have a very negative image of anything to do with temp and contract workers: that they are second-class and can’t get a proper job,” says Matsuoka. He believes there are many who consider it preferable to stay at home for six to eight months while looking for work, rather than taking on a temporary assignment.
“The majority of our clients are international firms because they are more open; they get it and see the value of what we’re doing,” says Matsuoka. However, at international firms, most of the staff is Japanese, which means that some of the people candidates are working with still hold these negative opinions.
One way Matsuoka deals with this is to encourage candidates and contractors to look at having a varied work history as a ‘Portfolio Career’.
“Like an artist, you have to show your work; the more paintings you have in your portfolio, the more valuable you are,” he states. “When I get resumes with just company names and dates of when they joined and left, I tell them to forget all that. I need to know all the industries they’ve worked in and what they’ve achieved.”
70% of FocusCore’s contractors are female professionals, with most of the remaining 30% consisting of older, semi-retired men.
“These are typically profiles that would get rejected for full-time jobs, or even temp contracts for high-level roles,” says Matsuoka. “However, we’re very experienced at getting these people in the door.”
The company’s typical female contractor is a bilingual professional, often with MBA and CPA qualifications, who took a few years off to have children and now finds it hard to get a high-level role.
FocusCore is dedicated to helping women get placed in companies where they will have fulfilling careers, and also satisfy a real demand.
“One of our mid-term goals is to provide day-care for working mothers who are contracting for us — one idea being to have a day-care centre in the same building as our offices,” says Matsuoka. “We’re trying to provide work–life balance through a more flexible working style, and leverage the workforce.”
But issues associated with work–life balance are not restricted to female staff.
“A lot of companies say they have paternity leave policies, but nobody is taking advantage of them. Managers need to lead by example as Japanese companies are still very hierarchical,” Matsuoka observes. “The government and companies know what needs to be done; they just need to start doing it.”
Some older, retired men have expressed a desire to work until they’re 70.
“They have a lot of experience and skills, and can hit the ground running quickly,” remarks Matsuoka. “They know how to navigate challenges and how to get what they need to complete the task. These are untapped talents that are sitting idle at home.
“Sometimes, we’ll go as far as saying that we’re so confident in this person, let them start for three days or a week; and if you’re not satisfied with what they’re doing, you pay nothing,” he adds.
In the end, Matsuoka says he often ends up dealing with the opposite problem — companies are so satisfied with the contractor’s performance that they offer them a full-time position, which his company collects a one-time fee for, but is “a big loss of revenue.”
“Of our candidates, about eight out of 10 go full-time, and two become professional consultants; but we would like to see that proportion reversed,” he says.
Matsuoka believes demand for the services that FocusCore is providing can only grow. “Unless they change the immigration laws — and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon — they have to leverage what they already have in society.”