Municipal governments in Japan are working to attract information technology engineers from across Asia to support local businesses faced with fierce competition from their more powerful, big-city competitors.

Projects designed to help small and midsize companies lacking the resources and reach to recruit information technology engineers have become increasingly valuable, although an unwillingness to experiment is preventing many local governments from engaging with overseas talent.

Eyemovic Inc., an IT company based in the city of Matsuyama, is one of the companies that needed help, which in its case was provided by Ehime Prefecture in hiring a Nepalese engineer last spring.

Subash Rijal (C) meets with colleagues in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, in September 2023. (Kyodo)

"The Japanese language is very difficult, but I want to learn many new technologies," said 26-year-old Subash Rijal, who has been tasked with website development at the company.

Founded in 2005, Eyemovic operates with a workforce of about 50 and has branch offices in Kagawa, Kochi and Tokushima -- the other three of the four prefectures on the western main island of Shikoku -- as well as in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

"Competition with the big IT companies to recruit engineers is extremely fierce," said Kenichiro Morimoto, the 45-year-old president of the regionally-based software provider.

Recent Cabinet Secretariat data showed some 60 percent of IT engineers in Japan are in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and almost 90 percent of domestic companies surveyed said they are struggling to hire the people they need.

Although recruitment of Japan-based foreign personnel is a solution to the problem, most companies lack the necessary know-how to create such opportunities on their own.

While India is known as an IT powerhouse, Indian engineers are much in demand around the world. The Ehime government therefore looked toward India's neighbor, Nepal.

Subash Rijal (R), who works at an IT company in Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, is pictured in September 2023. (Kyodo)

"Although Nepal has an abundance of competent IT engineers, competition to employ them is not very intense," an Ehime official in charge said. "So we thought that local companies have a chance."

By paying for Japanese language education and other expenses in Nepal, the Ehime government has helped 17 local companies employ or offer jobs to 29 Nepalese engineers, Rijal among them. Launched in fiscal 2022, the program to pair foreign IT engineers with companies is expected to continue until fiscal 2024.

An official at the prefectural government's industrial human resources division said it is "looking to create ties with Nepal and develop an environment in which companies in the prefecture can recruit on their own."

In related developments, the Toyama prefectural government is supporting local companies in building relationships with universities in Vietnam, while Sapporo in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido has found success in helping businesses hire engineers from countries such as Bangladesh thanks to subsidies provided by the city office.

However, not many municipalities across Japan are eager to push forward with such initiatives.

A nationwide Kyodo News survey has found that only 20 percent of local governments are working to promote the acquisition of overseas IT talent, with many reluctant to introduce such programs citing a lack of know-how and "the language barrier," among other reasons.

Japan ranked 43rd out of 64 global economies in the 2023 World Talent Ranking by the Switzerland-based International Institute for Management Development, based on indicators such as the ability to attract human resources in Japan and abroad.

Japan's relatively low salaries, particularly at a time when the yen is weak, and hurdles in learning the language, among other factors, were cited as reasons for the lack of foreign interest.

Yuji Kobayashi, a principal researcher at Persol Research and Consulting Co., stressed the importance of creating psychological connections to attract foreign talent.

"Foreign workers often feel lonely because there are few foreign colleagues, and their connection with Japanese people in daily life is also very limited," he said, noting, "Local governments supporting efforts, such as the establishment of consultation services and community networking, could be effective" in luring engineers from other countries.

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