For the unemployed in areas heavily damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake, a government program to create long-term employment opportunities shines out like a beacon of hope amid a severe job market.
The program, which was first implemented earlier this month, received an additional 151 billion yen in funding from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry last November. Under the program, local governments outsource projects to businesses and nonprofit organizations, which hire employees for a period of one year or longer with the intent of training them to be regular employees. The central government subsidizes labor and other costs.
So far, about 450 people in Iwate Prefecture and about 1,000 people in Miyagi Prefecture are expected to be employed under the program this fiscal year. In Iwate, businesses and NPOs have already signed contracts with the prefectural and municipal governments for 49 projects.
Employment offers are beginning to pop up in Fukushima Prefecture as well, with about 1,500 people expected to find jobs, bringing the total to 2,950 new jobs across the three prefectures.
According to the ministry, 58,316 people received unemployment allowances in the three prefectures in February, nearly twice the number in the same month last year. The unemployment situation is especially severe in the hardest-hit coastal areas.
The projects target various jobs, such as training craftsmen to create traditional local crafts, such as Nambu-tekki ironware, and promoting the sale of local specialties.
“It’s necessary to find long-term, stable jobs for people to aid reconstruction. We wish to help as many people as possible to find jobs,” a ministry official said.
Those who have started jobs found through the program are hopeful.
At a salmon hatchery in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, Kazunori Minato, 29, and Akihiro Fukushi, 19, listened attentively to their boss and hatchery manager, Akihiko Hashiba, 55.
“Make sure you don’t cause stress to the salmon when you feed them,” Hashiba said.
Minato and Fukushi were hired on a yearlong contract as temporary workers by a local fisheries cooperative association on April 1. Their job is to catch salmon migrating upstream to lay eggs, raise the offspring and stock them. The Yamada municipal government decided to utilize the project with the aim of fostering a young workforce that will take over the fisheries cooperative.
“I want to stand on my own feet as soon as possible,” said Fukushi, who graduated from high school last year.
Minato used to be a gardener. However, when the tsunami swept his house away, it took most of his job opportunities along with it. “I have a family to take care of. I’m relieved this job gives me a chance at becoming a regular staff member if I work hard,” he said.
Kaori Komatsu, 23, has found employment as a temporary worker at the Kara-kuwa Peninsula Visitor Center in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.
She grew up in the town, and graduated from a university in Yamagata in March last year. Although she majored in art history, a majority of the jobs being offered were in the building, nursing and care giving industries.
However, Komatsu said she wants to do her best in cheering up her hometown. “Thanks to the long-term employment project, I can focus on the task of promoting the charm of Kesennuma,” she said.
(Apr. 26, 2012)