Ph. D.’s in Japan can’t find work: Little recognition for high expertise, says Mainichi Communications Survey


“We want to hire more in science and engineering, but save the Ph. D’s, please.” — This is the response enterprises gave when asked their employment projections for next spring by employment magazine publisher Mainichi Communications (Based in Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo). Most businesses listed “communications skills” as the most emphasized skill at the time of hiring, regardless of post-graduate status, and conspicuously gave little credit to the “expertise” of Ph. D’s.

401 companies responded to the survey, which was conducted in February and March of this year. This is the first survey investigating the hiring projections for undergrad, master’s, and doctoral graduates separately.

Of those businesses aiming to “increase” their hiring of science and engineering students next spring, 30.3% planned to hire graduates with a bachelor’s, 17.5% planned to hire master’s graduates, and only 7.1% planned to hire doctorates. On the contrary, 41.1% either had “no plans to hire” or “stopped hiring” Ph. D’s.

When asked what skills are considered most important when hiring (in a “choose all that apply” format), more than 70% of the companies cited “communication skills.” “A fighting spirit” and “the ability to get things done” were top in both bachelor’s and master’s graduates, but even among firms that planned to hire Ph.D’s only 32.8% cited “fundamental knowledge appropriate to education level” as an important skill.

Project Promotion Chief Takuya Kurita, who headed the survey, explained, “It seems as if the idea is still strong that Ph.D’s are too specialized and thus hard to utilize. Perhaps their attitudes would change if there were a chance for employers to come in contact with doctorates.”

The number of doctoral graduates has been growing year by year since the latter half of the 1990s as a result of a government policy of emphasizing post-graduate studies, reaching 15,000 people in 2004. Realizing that positions for full-time researchers at places like universities are limited, the Ministry of Education is treating the development of a diverse career path for Ph.D’s as an important policy measure. They recommend that companies “hire based on the practical ability to solve problems regardless of age.” (Taku Nishikawa)

Comment: The last sentence says it all. Firms in Japan simply do not want to hire older people. If you look at most “shushoku” (full time hiring) requirements, you will almost always see an age cutoff of about 25 or so. Firms want the chance to get them young to train them and make them into loyal company men. Call me cynical, but I don’t think companies will change their behavior simply because MEXT asks them to. Japan needs an age discrimination law (with teeth) and fast.

3 thoughts on “Ph. D.’s in Japan can’t find work: Little recognition for high expertise, says Mainichi Communications Survey”

  1. Another reason is that PhDs are probably more into reflection on the nature of their field that in application of the field’s findings. Same for Computer Science education in the USA… Masters graduates earn more than either Bachelors are Doctors.

  2. I find it supremely ironic that the nation with the oldest population the world has a strong fetish with youth (from lolicon to this youth worker thing.) What happens 50 years from now when there are a fraction of youth that there are today? Who does the work for Japan then?


    (Or people who are young today.)

  3. “Masters graduates earn more than either Bachelors are Doctors.”

    Do they really? I’m not sure how to react except to say that sucks. What about job satisfaction though? Maybe the Masters holders are raking in the dough doing bland straightforward coding while the PHD holders get to have the time of their lives working at places like Google.

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