Japanese people often use the term "the lost 20 years" when referring to the severity of the Japanese economic situation during the years 1990 to 2010. This situation has negatively influenced the employment opportunities for new university graduates. Although the topic has been widely discussed by those about to enter the workforce, science and technology graduates seem to believe that for them the employment market has remained stable. It has become necessary for universities to conduct educational programs designed to help students learn how to perform well in the business world. In this paper, engineering school employment trends spanning 50 years were surveyed, using the School Basic Survey in Japan. Also, educational programs designed to help students obtain engineering jobs are discussed, and European "employability" programs are considered.
The number of engineering students and the percentage continuing to Masters courses are increasing, while the numbers enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate courses has been growing since the mid-1990s. Nowadays, most engineers employed by manufacturing companies have Masters degrees, but prior to these changes most manufacturing company engineers had only Bachelor degrees. The percentage of Mastersdegree holders employed in the manufacturing industry has decreased from over 70%, to below 60%, over the last 20 years. Recently, the levels of employment of engineering graduates in service industries (including commerce and retail), and in the banking and insurance sectors, have gradually increased. This is indicative of the reformation of the industrial structure of Japan.
Japanese universities have introduced educational programs and services for students in recognition of the new job-hunting/employment paradigm. Previously, most universities were not interested in addressing students' non-academic concerns such as the need for job-hunting skills, because they needed to focus on academic matters in order to retain a level of teaching quality commensurate with an institute of higher education.
In contrast, as a goal for academic improvement, British universities have, for over 10 years, promoted "employability programmes" that include curriculum development, and the curricula of these programmes also include non-academic learning activities such as internships. The feasibility of Japanese universities doing so should be practically evaluated.