Firms struggle to secure IT workers

by Yasuaki Kobayashi, Shota Mizuno

​TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — A shortage of human resources in information technology (IT) — including software developers and cybersecurity experts — is becoming a serious issue. 

Companies across a wide range of industries using IT are struggling to secure talented workers, while shopping and services are increasingly going online and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is expanding. If the issue is not addressed promptly, it may have a negative impact on the government’s growth strategy.

 “We cannot debug our programs because of a labor shortage,” lamented an engineer for a leading electronics maker who has been working on a project to develop an AI-equipped product. The engineer said the development of the product has not progressed well and the start of its sales has been delayed by more than a year.

 On the other hand, for IT engineers themselves, the job market is bright. “All companies are facing a shortage of engineers. We can select any company we want,” a 31-year old engineer said.

 According to an estimate by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, the shortage of IT workers will reach about 370,000 in 2020 and 790,000 in 2030.

 The shortage became evident around 2015, but the situation has been exacerbated recently as the development of new services utilizing IT is expanding across a variety of industries, from the manufacturing sector to financial businesses to the distribution industry.

 As an increasing number of people go online to shop, many companies are putting efforts into creating websites designed for e-commerce and apps for mobile shopping.

 In the convenience store industry, the use of IT is accelerating, including with the introduction of unmanned check-out counters. An executive of the operator of a leading convenience store chain expressed a sense of crisis. “We cannot hope for growth unless we utilize everything we can, including AI, the IoT [internet of things] and robots.”

Securing workers early 

 Major companies are trying every possible means to secure workers.

 Fujitsu Ltd. plans to hold a seminar next month for university students who are interested in IT. The company apparently aims at securing talented prospective employees who have experience in app development and other IT fields.

 Toyota Motor Corp. distributed “help wanted” ads until mid-November around the Roppongi Hills complex, where there is a concentration of IT companies. The firm also tries to attract IT workers through its recruiting website, which is headlined, “Those who believe they have no ties with cars — welcome to Toyota.” The automaker needs experts in AI and image recognition amid competition over the development of automated driving systems.

 Fast Retailing Co., which runs the Uniqlo stores, has been strengthening its mid-career recruitment of IT workers to discover consumer tastes by analyzing big data, including the movements of visitors at its stores.

 “Companies like major banks, which had no interest in recruiting IT engineers, are now hiring more and more from IT companies,” an expert said.

 According to Recruit Career Co., which helps people looking to change jobs, there were about two job openings per job-seeking IT engineer five years ago, but now there are about four. At a time when there are 1.9 openings per job-seeker in the overall labor market, the shortage of IT engineers is noteworthy.

Alarm bells

 The government’s growth strategy calls for enhanced corporate productivity through AI analysis of data obtained from the IoT. 

 But the current human resources situation could put the brakes on realizing this strategy.

 An executive of an IT company sounded the alarm. “There have been calls for the need to foster human resources in the IT field, but measures for this issue have barely progressed,” the executive said.

 “If it’s not addressed, we will have to recruit local IT engineers from our overseas offices.”