About 20 percent of 15- to 18-year-olds in senior high schools attend programs that focus on career and technical education (CTE). These programs provide educational opportunities for students who know that they want to work in a particular occupational area. In these schools, 50-70 percent of class time is spent on career and technical subjects, with the remaining class time devoted to math, Japanese and foreign languages. Students who graduate may apply to universities, though the majority of them go on to two-year CTE institutions if they pursue higher education. One area that has been particularly successful in adapting to a changing economy is the system of Kosen colleges, Japan’s 57 national colleges of technology. Though this system of institutions was founded in 1961, they have enjoyed increased popularity in recent years as their graduates have been swamped with job offers in an otherwise difficult economy. Kosen colleges were established in response to industry needs, which have shifted from manufacturing to computer science and applied chemistry. Students can enter these colleges at the age of fifteen, and after five years of study, leave with the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. Most students go on to full employment after graduation, though a portion elect to continue to postgraduate school in university. While the number of students entering Kosen colleges is just one percent of all Japanese students, the program is growing, and now students compete for each spot.
Other small CTE programs for upper secondary school students are specialized training colleges. These colleges provide CTE in eight fields: technology, agriculture, medical care, personal care and nutrition, education and welfare, business, fashion and general education. Graduates of these two-year programs receive a diploma and have a high rate of employment compared to graduates from universities or junior colleges. Specialized training colleges also offer four-year programs leading to advanced diplomas, and a portion of graduates from senior high schools go on to take these post-secondary courses at specialized training colleges.
In the past decade, Japan has tried to address high rates of unemployed and underemployed youth in a series of reforms of its higher education and CTE sector. There has been concern, in particular, about high rates of unemployment among university graduates, and lack of uptake of current CTE options. In 2016, MEXT’s Central Council for Education recommended a new type of four-year university for career and technical education. The council hopes the new institutions will train more specialists in information technology, agriculture and tourism. Students attending these new universities will be expected to spend 600 hours in practical courses such as internships. The plan also calls for teachers with at least five years of work experience to make up 40 percent of full-time faculty members. Under the current plan, these universities can open as early as April 2019.
Another major initiative is enhancing student career counseling at university, with an eye toward directing students into highly-skilled trades. This counseling is carried out in conjunction with advice from industry leaders, who identify growth areas and worker shortages.