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Japan's Shift from Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to a New System


Japan has recently embarked on a significant journey to reshape its approach to foreign labor programs by abolishing the current Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) and introducing a new system. This move is aimed at addressing long-standing criticisms and concerns while fostering a more inclusive and fair environment for foreign workers contributing to the Japanese economy.


Technical Intern Training Program

In the early 1990s, Japan found itself at the forefront of a burgeoning economic boom, accompanied by a growing demand for skilled labor in various technical and industrial sectors. In response to these circumstances, the Japanese government introduced the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) in 1993. The program's primary objective was clear: to transfer technical skills to foreign workers, fostering international cooperation while simultaneously addressing the pressing issue of labor shortages inside Japan.


Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the program underwent expansions and modifications to accommodate the changing needs of Japanese industries. It opened its doors to trainees from an increasing number of countries, reflecting a commitment to global collaboration.


However, as the TITP grew, so did the chorus of criticism. Reports surfaced, pointing to issues such as exploitation, poor working conditions, and insufficient legal protections for program participants. Concerns were raised about the transparency of the recruitment process and the role played by intermediaries in facilitating the program. Critics argue that the program, in some instances, allowed for the exploitation of foreign labor, undermining the original intention of fostering skills development and cultural exchange.


Abolishing the TITP

Japan has implemented various reforms to the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) over the years. However, following careful discussions, the decision has been made to abolish the program three decades after its establishment. This decision marks a commitment to creating a more ethical and transparent system that respects the rights and well-being of foreign workers.


Throughout 2023, Japan is actively engaged in discussions about the development of a new system to replace the existing TITP. The ongoing dialogue involves various stakeholders, including government officials, industry representatives, and international organizations, seeking input and perspectives to design a foreign labor program that not only meets the needs of Japanese industries but also prioritizes the well-being and rights of the participants. The outcome of these discussions holds the promise of shaping a foreign labor system in Japan that aligns with contemporary standards and values, fostering a more positive and mutually beneficial environment for all stakeholders involved. 


Key Reforms in the New System

According to the latest report from the Japanese government, they plan to replace the old Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) with a new system called '育成就労制度.' Here are some key changes proposed for the new system:


1. Shift in Purpose

The recent name change in the program is not merely aesthetic; it mirrors a significant shift in its overarching purpose. This change highlights a renewed emphasis on the training and skill development of foreign workers. The program's evolution is evident as it transitions from its earlier focus on international contribution to a more targeted objective of securing and training foreign human resources. This strategic shift in purpose underscores dedication to not only fostering international cooperation but also actively contributing to the enhancement of skills and expertise among foreign workers, aligning with the evolving demands of Japan's labor market.


2. Training duration

The new system introduces a specific training period of three years to bring trainees to a certain level of expertise and skills, which is shorter in duration compared to the TITP. It's noteworthy to mention that the TITP originally had a three-year training period. The subsequent extension to five years might have been influenced by various factors, including the complexity of skill transfer, the nature of the industries involved, and the evolving expectations of both participants and host companies. The decision to revert to a shorter duration in the new system could signify a fresh approach, emphasizing efficiency, effectiveness, and perhaps a more targeted training experience for foreign workers.


3. Emphasis on specialized skills

The new system emphasizes integration with the specific skills system, requiring specialized knowledge. The TITP covers over 70 designated industries, spanning manufacturing, construction, agriculture, fisheries, food and beverage, hospitality, information technology, healthcare, and more. However, the new system imposes limitations by narrowing down the covered industries to 14, aligning with the fields specified in the Specified Skilled Worker program.


The industries included in the Specified Skilled Worker program are:

  • Nursing Care

  • Building Cleaning Management

  • Material Processing

  • Industrial Machinery Manufacturing

  • Electric and Electronic Information Related Industry

  • Construction

  • Shipbuilding and Ship Machinery Industry

  • Automobile Repair and Maintenance

  • Aviation Industry

  • Accommodation

  • Agriculture

  • Fishery

  • Food and Beverage Manufacturing Industry

  • Food Service Industry


4. Job mobility

Changing jobs or moving companies is impossible in the TITP. The inability to change jobs means that interns are heavily dependent on their host companies for the duration of the program, leaving them vulnerable to potential exploitation or mistreatment without the ability to seek alternative employment. If technical interns face unfavorable working conditions or mistreatment in their current positions, they might be reluctant to report or address workplace issues due to fears of jeopardizing their status within the program or facing negative consequences.


After evaluating the TITP, the new system will allow foreign workers to transfer to other companies. However, this will only be permitted within the same field after the employee has worked for at least one year and has achieved a certain level of skill and Japanese language proficiency. This system aims to reduce the power imbalance between the company and the employees.


5. Cost Sharing System

The cost-sharing system in the 育成就労制度 is designed to address the financial burden often shouldered by foreign workers participating in the program. In many cases, these workers incur significant fees when dealing with sending organizations or intermediaries in their home countries to facilitate their participation in the TITP.


The cost-sharing system introduces a mechanism by which Japanese-accepting companies share some of the financial responsibilities associated with hosting foreign workers. This initiative aims to alleviate the financial strain on the trainees, making the program more accessible and equitable for participants.


By sharing costs, the new system seeks to create a fairer arrangement, recognizing that the financial well-being of trainees is a crucial aspect of their overall experience. This approach aligns with efforts to improve the conditions of foreign workers in Japan, promoting a more balanced and supportive environment within the program.


Implementation of the New TITP

The success of the upcoming changes relies on collaborative efforts between the Japanese government, participating companies, and international organizations. Regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms will be established to ensure the continued effectiveness and fairness of the new foreign labor program. We don't know the exact launch date of the new program or the fate of current interns under the existing system yet, but we'll find out soon.

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