4. Increasing access to adult learning opportunities

Only 12% of adults in Japan who did not participate in formal or non-formal job-related training report that there were learning activities that they wanted to participate in but did not. This compares with 18% in the OECD on average. Lack of time and scheduling constraints play a bigger role in Japan than in the OECD on average. Among non-participants who would have liked to attend training, the main reasons for not participating are a lack of time due to work responsibilities (29% in Japan compared with 22% in the OECD on average), a lack of time due to child care or family responsibilities (27% in Japan compared with 20% in the OECD on average), and the training taking place at an inconvenient time or place (19% in Japan compared with 10% in the OECD on average) (Figure 4.1). The long working hours typical of the Japanese employment system contribute to the perceived lack of time for training activities (see Chapter 2 for a full discussion about the practice of long working hours in Japan). By contrast, a lack of financial resources is a much less common barrier in Japan than it is on average across OECD countries (8% versus 17%).

A regression analysis of the link between personal characteristics and barriers to training shows that women are more likely than men to report family responsibilities as the main reason for not participating in (more) training despite wanting to1 (see Annex Table 4.A.1). By contrast, men are more likely to report being too busy at work. Among employed adults, men are also more likely than women to report inconvenient time or place as reason for not participating in (more) training. Since these regression control for labour market status (in the case of all adults) and employment type (in the case of employed adults), this means that women and men who are in similar employment situations still report different barriers on average. Unsurprisingly, for adults with children, family responsibilities are a more important barrier than for adults without children. Older adults are less likely to report family responsibilities as their reason for not participating, but more likely to report being too busy at work or training taking place at an inconvenient time or place. Part-time workers are less likely than full-time workers to report being too busy at work, and more likely to be too busy due to family responsibilities and training being organised at an inconvenient time or place.

In order to facilitate access to training for workers, a system of paid education and training leave is stipulated in the Human Resources Development Promotion Act (1969). The act states that “[…] an employer shall promote the voluntary development and improvement of the vocational abilities of his/her employed workers in line with their vocational life planning, by extending the following necessary assistance, as needed”: i) paid leave for educational training, ii) long-term leave for educational training, and iii) leave for preparation for re-employment. The leave can be granted to workers who receive training to improve their professional qualifications or for other vocational purposes, but it is not a worker’s right, since the law stipulates that employers may provide leave as needed at their own discretion.

Employers who implement education and training leave can receive various forms of government subsidies, regardless of their size or the occupational type of their workers. Employers that provide at least 5 days of paid education and training leave per year to at least one employee (or at least five in the case of firms with more than 100 employees) receive JPY 300 000. Firms that provide long-term education and training leave of at least 120 days per year (60 of them consecutive) have alternatively the choice to get a JPY 200 000 subsidy from the government, as well as JPY 6 000 per day per person if the company continues to pay regular wages while the worker is on leave.2 The subsidies can only be used for the financing of education and training leave of workers who contribute to the employment insurance system, are employed on a permanent contract and work full-time.3

Although employers are encouraged to provide education and training leave by law, only 9% of employers provided this type of leave in 2017 according to the Basic Survey of Human Resource Development. An additional 13% of employers claimed that they were planning to implement the leave system. Outside of the education and training leave system, 7% of Japanese employers report to be offering shorter working hours to their employees who are taking training. Among the employers that did not provide education and training leave or short working time arrangements, the main reasons for not doing so are the difficulty to find replacement staff (52%), lack of awareness about the system (43%) and lack of requests from workers (33%). Hence, the main issues for the Japanese education and training system seem to be related to a lack of awareness and a difficulty for employers to cope with the absence of workers.

A system of education and training leave exists in many OECD countries, but the characteristics of the systems differ widely (OECD, 2019[1]). While this type of leave is regulated by law in some countries, in others it is part of collective agreements. In many countries employees receive compensation during their education and training leave, and in a few countries employers receive financial support for granting this type of leave to their employees. In the majority of countries, a maximum duration of the paid leave is stipulated in the regulation, and this varies strongly between countries. In Lithuania, for example, the leave can last between 2 and 30 days, whereas in Austria leave can last up to one year, and in Norway even up to three years. Some countries limit eligibility for education and training leave to workers with a minimal tenure with their employer. Box 4.1 describes the paid education and training leave system in Korea, France and Flanders (Belgium).

When workers are away from work for extended periods of training, employers are likely to need to replace them. This is certainly the case in smaller firms, where the impact of missing one employee could be felt more strongly. The cost of hiring a replacement worker could be one of the reasons why employers are reluctant to provide (long) education and training leave. Moreover, it could be difficult for employers to find someone to temporarily fill the job, especially for jobs that require certain job-specific skills. The difficulty of finding replacement workers is the main reason for Japanese employers not to provide time off for training. Some countries have implemented job rotation schemes, in which workers on training are replaced by unemployed workers, thereby helping employers while their employees are in training and creating work experience opportunities for job seekers. Box 4.2 describes the job rotation system in Denmark. In France, a system of financial support for SMEs to hire a worker to replace their employee(s) away for training existed until a few years ago.

When training is organised in a flexible way, the employer can avoid having to hire a replacement worker. This is especially true in the case of short or medium-term training programmes. Training that is not organised as a full-time activity, allows workers to combine work and training, meaning they would only be away from work during a limited amount of time per day or per week. Moreover, distance learning opportunities could allow workers to optimally fit their time off for training into their work programme. Education and training leave regulations need to be flexible enough to allow for participation in these types of training programmes.

To increase awareness and take-up of the education and training leave, the regulations regarding this type of leave and the associated government support measures should be clarified and made more precise. Workers need to be able to understand the different types of education and training leave that are available to them, including the extent to which they continue to receive pay during their leave, and need to have clear information about the steps needed to request education and training leave. Clear rules regarding obligations for employers to actively provide this type of information to their workers and regarding the possibility to deny requests for education and training leave should be set (either by law or in collective bargaining agreements). To foster the use of paid education and training leave among employers, government subsidies related to paid leave should be granted by hour of paid leave provided (rather than on a lump sum basis) and conditional on the worker receiving his or her full wage or a decent replacement wage. If government support is provided by hour of paid leave, minimum and maximum hours of training should be set. Clear rules regarding the types of training programmes that are eligible for government-supported paid education and training leave can help bring transparency to the system.

To help adults combine training participation with their professional and personal responsibilities, and overcome barriers related to training taking place at inconvenient times or places, training should be organised in a flexible way. Employed adults might prefer training to take place in the evening or at weekends, whereas adults with childcare responsibilities might prefer to participate in training during school hours. Hence, flexibility in training hours is very important. Moreover, it might be difficult for adults to commit to lengthy training programmes. Breaking down long training programmes into different modules can help adults in completing training at their own pace. Systems of recognition of prior learning also increase the flexibility of education and training programmes, as they allow adults to get exemptions from certain programme modules for which they have already obtained the skills non-formally or informally (e.g. through work experience). Therefore, recognition of prior learning can substantially shorten the time needed to obtain a qualification by focussing only on the skills that the learner does not yet possess. Box 4.3 describes how Finland made its VET programmes more flexible, including through the use of recognition of prior learning.

As discussed above, the share of adults reporting that training was organised at an inconvenient time or place as the main reason for not participating in training is larger in Japan than it is on average across OECD countries. This might point to a lack of flexibility in training provision. For only 14% of adults in Japan who participated in non-formal job-related training this was organised as open or distance education. This is below the OECD average of 19%. Participation in distance learning is particularly low in Japan among the low educated (10% among training participants without an upper secondary education degree, compared to 15% among the tertiary educated), older adults (10% among 55-65 year-olds compared to 17% among 25 to 34-year-olds). Similarly, the Basic Survey of Human Resource Development shows that in 2017 for only 20% of regular workers who participated in training that was not initiated by their employer (and 10% of non-regular workers), this training was organised as distance learning, and this share has stayed roughly the same in the last 10 years. Face-to-face non-formal learning, such as participation in study groups or seminars, is a much more common type of worker-initiated training.

Digital tools provide new opportunities to offer distance adult learning, particularly online. This has proved especially important in difficult times such as the recent COVID-19 health crisis, when suddenly much of the training that was originally planned in person had to be transferred online. The growing prominence of online learning is linked to the rapid increase in broadband penetration across OECD countries, including Japan. In 2019, 32 out of 100 individuals living in Japan had a fixed broadband subscription, while there were 179 mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. As such, many people could potentially access online learning opportunities. Providing high-quality online training programmes could be a way to bring more flexibility in the training offer in Japan. However, as noted in Chapter 1, a substantial share of adults in Japan lack basic digital problem-solving skills, and might therefore have limited access to online learning. Hence, when promoting online learning, special attention needs to be paid to adults with weak digital skills and those without a broadband subscription. This can be done, for example, by providing accompanying face-to-face basic digital skills training programmes. Another challenge regarding online training is to have quality assurance systems in place guaranteeing that the training that adults are taking is of verifiable quality and the acquired skills can be certified. Finally, online courses are currently mostly restricted to while-collar jobs although virtual reality promises to broaden access to hands-on learning. See OECD (2020[10]) for a detailed discussion on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis on the potential of online learning for adults.

A survey among training providers in Japan in 2014 showed that 10% of providers delivered e-learning programmes (The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, 2019[11]). The providers that are most strongly engaged in e-learning provision are vocational schools (16%), employers (14%) and non-profit organisations (13%). According to the Yano Research Institute (2019[12]), the e-learning market in Japan grew by 38% in the period 2015-19, with growth being strongest in the market for non-business consumers. The Japanese Government is promoting the use of e-learning in a variety of education and training programs as it seeks to increase participation in adult learning. The Human Resource Development Support Subsidy that employers can receive when they train their workers was expanded in 2019 to also cover distance learning, including e-learning. Similarly, the training benefit system that provides subsidies to adults engaging in training also covers e-learning programmes since 2014.

As shown before, traditionally a large share of training activities in Japan have been organised by employers, as part of their efforts to develop the job-specific skills of their workers. This is especially the case for workers in the lifetime employment system. However, as the number of women and older workers not covered by traditional employment practices is on the rise and a large and growing share of workers are employed on non-regular contracts, many adults no longer have access to employer-provided training. For those workers, but also for adults who are not in employment, alternative training providers need to be accessible. Moreover, in the future it will be challenging for firms to train employees alone, since employment patterns are expected to become more diverse and multilinear. For this reason, since recent years Japan has been trying to promote adult education and training other than that provided by companies. To ensure that adults have sufficient access to training opportunities outside of their employer, public and private providers need to have an adequate offer of relevant and high-quality training programmes that are adapted to the specific needs of adults. These programmes need to be both formal and non-formal to respond to the changing needs of the Japanese society.

The Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) shows that less than 2% of Japanese adults participated in formal education and training in the 12 months before the survey was conducted (Panel A of Figure 4.2). This is below the OECD average of 8% and lower than in any of the OECD countries included in the survey. This low participation rate of adults in formal education and training is also confirmed when looking at the average age of first-time entrants into tertiary education, which is lower in Japan than in other OECD countries (Panel B of Figure 4.2). While first-time entrants into short-cycle tertiary programmes are aged 25 on average across OECD countries, they are aged 18 in Japan. Similarly, first-time entrants in bachelor programmes are aged 18 on average in Japan, compared to 22 across OECD countries. These numbers show that tertiary education is mostly pursued immediately after secondary education in Japan and very few adults return to education.

While Japanese authorities do not supply general data on adult learning participation in formal and non-formal programmes, information on public providers only is available. This remains very relevant because, as in the rest of the OECD area, the large majority of formal training in Japan is offered by public education institutions. Estimates in Figure 4.3 confirms previous findings: overall, in 2016 less than one in ten public providers offered courses explicitly designed for adults within their formal training offers.4 Yet, despite being relatively low, this proportion has increased remarkably since 2012 (+3.3%). This evolution reflects the Japanese Government’s efforts to boost the role of universities and other public higher education institutions in providing training opportunities for adults.

With its “Basic Policy on Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform” of June 2019, the government further engaged in strengthening collaborations with industrial groups at universities and graduate schools, implementing strategic public relations and communication, and doubling the number of recipients of the Training Benefits within three years. The government also aims to promote the utilisation of Early Graduation5 and Long-term Study System6 so that adult learners can flexibly choose a study duration and contents. Similarly, specific measures are planned to allow graduate schools to award degrees based on the accumulated credits earned from previous university or work experiences, the so-called Credit Accumulation System.7 Furthermore, in order to promote the development of competences highly sought by the society – such as digital skills – the government is seeking to strengthen collaboration among the relevant ministries and agencies to boost the diffusion of e-learning and online training.

Yet, in spite of these efforts by the Japanese authorities, the number of formal education institutions offering adult learning programmes remains low. One of the reasons for this is linked to the fact that the governmental action has so far overlooked financial issues faced by providers themselves. A 2016 survey administered to universities, junior colleges and technical colleges by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology found financial strain to be one of the main causes of the lack of adult learning provision by formal education providers.8 In particular, 45% of respondents considered specific financial support from the government a necessary condition for the establishment of adult learning programmes. While university tuition fees in Japan are higher than the OECD average, public expenditure on tertiary education as a percentage of GDP in 2017 is 0.6% (the OECD average is 1.2%), making it one of the lowest among OECD countries (OECD, 2020[15]). In addition, in private universities, the promotion of adult learning may not be financially attractive because currently adult learning programmes that do not qualify as regular courses are not eligible for public subsidies. These financial aspects should therefore be taken more into consideration by the public authorities if the role of formal education institutions in the Japanese adult training market wants to be boosted.

In parallel to the low number of adult formal learning programmes, the number of participants remains disappointingly low. As discussed in the previous sections, adults face many barriers when it comes to training participation, many of them related to a lack of time or scheduling difficulties. These issues might even be larger in the case of formal training, which generally has a long duration and focuses on full-time students. Therefore, for adults to be able to participate in formal training, more flexibility needs to be built into these training programmes. Modularisation of programmes and flexible delivery (part-time, evening courses, distance learning) are crucial for making training more flexible. Moreover, recognition and validation of prior learning can help adults focus on the skills that they do not already have, thereby shortening the duration of the programme. The Finnish VET system described in Box 4.3 has taken such a flexible approach to facilitate access to VET programmes for adults. Similarly, tertiary education in Ireland combines flexible deliver and options for recognition of prior learning to make formal education more accessible for adults (Box 4.4).

In Japan, instead, part-time education remains underutilised. In 2017, less than 8% of students (both young and adult) are enrolled part-time in tertiary education in Japan, in contrast to 38% in countries such as the United States or as high as 46% in Sweden (Figure 4.4).9 This relatively small proportion is due to the fact that possibilities for part-time training are rather limited in Japan. Universities generally accept part-time enrolment, allowing students to earn credits for courses they have completed. Also public vocational training institutions established by national or prefectural governments, such as polytechnic schools, offer the possibility of part-time study, but mainly to those students who already hold a degree.

To reduce training length and facilitate the upskilling of adults, Japan introduced some measures of recognition of prior (formal) learning (for a discussion on the recognition of prior non-formal and informal learning in Japan see Chapter 7, Box 7.2). For instance, universities and public institutions allow former graduates with credits earned at other educational institutions to replace part of course modules with those credits deemed comparable, thereby finishing the programme in a shorter period. “Professional and vocational universities” and “Professional and vocational junior colleges” are also allowed to grant credits to those who have acquired relevant practical skills through working experiences before being admitted to the school. In addition, “professional and vocational universities” and “professional and vocational junior colleges” can even replace a certain period of the academic year with the previous working experience of an individual.

Another way in which Japanese higher education institutions have been offering flexibility is through distance courses. In 2017, 28% of all universities in Japan offered some distance education courses (Panel A of Figure 4.5). This proportion has risen remarkably by 11 percentage points in the past decade only. The type of information and communication technology (ICT) Japanese universities use for educational purposes is shown in Panel B of Figure 4.5. Distance learning using real time delivery systems (such as videoconferencing) is adopted by a fourth of all Japanese universities. Slightly larger (27%) is the proportion of universities offering non-real time delivery systems, most notably videos-on-demand. So-called blended learning – a combination of classroom lectures and self-study or group works through e-learning – is very common, with more than 45% of universities adopting this teaching method. Finally, 55% of surveyed universities prepare and review learning activities using a learning management system, i.e. a software application for the administration, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational and training courses.

Japan also has one longstanding distance education university, which offers all its courses (fully or partially) online or through other distance delivery channels. The Open University of Japan (OUJ) is an accredited educational institution which aims to provide a wide range of people with higher education opportunities as well as to provide high school graduates with flexible and mobile opportunities to continue their education into universities. On top of that, as a higher education institution taking advantage of the benefits of the academic network, OUJ enhances coordination and cooperation with the existing universities aiming to foster the spread of the latest research outcomes and teaching methods. Programmes are made up of broadcast courses which are delivered through radio, television or the internet, face-to-face courses held at the Study Centres throughout Japan, and online courses (The Open University of Japan, 2019[20]). In 2020, just under 83 000 students attended the Open University of Japan, 69% of them being regular students (i.e. enrolled for graduation with an academic degree) and around 25% being students in non-degree programmes (i.e. students enrolled for only one semester or one year) (The Open University of Japan, 2020[21]). While these initiatives are promising, distance learning courses often suffer from stigma and are less valued by employers. Quality assurance systems are crucial to improve the recognition of qualifications obtained through distance learning and ensuring that distance learners are equipped with the right competences and knowledge required by the labour market. Several OECD countries are putting into place specific quality assurance mechanisms for online training courses and Korea provides a relevant example (see Box 4.5).

Formal education programmes do not only need to be easily accessible for adults, they also need to be relevant for them. Japan’s education system has traditionally focused on equipping students with general skills, while more firm-specific skills are acquired after leaving school through in-company training systems (OECD, 2016[22]). In a recent survey, Japanese employers presented very low satisfaction with graduates’ skills, with an average overall score that is 40% lower than the global average (QS, 2019[23]). Japanese employers have particularly low satisfaction with soft skills, such as leadership, creativity and problem-solving. Therefore, the content of the vocational programmes and courses offered by education institutions does not seem to be suited to the needs of adults, as they are generally looking to develop more technical or specific soft skills. In order for programmes to be relevant, they should ideally be developed in close cooperation with social partners to ensure that their content is in line with labour market needs.

As adults are mostly looking for training opportunities that help them develop skills that are in demand by employers and are delivered in a relatively short time and with sufficient flexibility, formal programmes often do not satisfy their needs. In Japan, as in all other OECD countries, adult predominantly participate in non-formal training. According to the Survey of Adult Skills, organised sessions of on-the-job training, seminars and workshops are the most important forms of non-formal training in Japan. These non-formal training programmes could be delivered by a variety of providers, including employers, private non-formal training providers and public education institutions. European data show that employers and private organisations are the main providers of non-formal training, and only 10% of participants in non-formal training report that this training was provided by a public institution. While similar data are not available for Japan, the Basic Survey of Human Resource Development shows that very few firms use public education institutions to deliver their off-the-job training and very few workers go to formal institutions for their self-development activities.10 Yet, given the diversification of recruitment and employment patterns in Japan, the increasing mobility of human resources, and the changing nature of training within companies, the role of non-formal programmes in the Japanese adult training market is likely to increase further in the near future.

While typically catered towards provision of formal education, Japanese universities and formal education institutions also offer some forms of non-formal training courses. These are non-degree programmes, which can however still lead to a somewhat recognised certification and take three forms in Japan: (1) Credited Auditors is a system allowing students to take part-time courses and earn regular credits for only a required portion of regular university programmes; (2) Certification System for Extension Program allows universities and vocational training colleges to organize relatively short, systematic educational courses for working adults, and to issue certificates of completion to those who finish them; (3) Public Lectures are university lectures open to the public leading to no degree or certificate of completion. Although data on the share of adult learners in each of these programmes are not available, Figure 4.6 shows the overall (young and adult) number of students for every non-formal training provided by formal education institutions. Open lectures are by far the largest category in terms of participants: in 2016 over 1.3 million Japanese attended open lectures in universities, and numbers have remained quite stable since 2012. The credited auditors system saw less than 17 000 enrolled students in 2016, decreasing from 22 500 in 2012. Finally, just over 3 000 individuals received a certificate through the Certification System for Extension Program in 2016.

In spite of the current somewhat low numbers of participants, formal education institutions would be well placed to organise non-formal training, as they might already have the knowledge and resources to develop and deliver such programmes. This is already the case in several OECD countries (see Box 4.6 for a discussion of the non-formal learning by the public educational system in Singapore and Denmark). As these institutions generally have a well-developed quality assurance system in place, this could be leveraged to ensure that the provided training is of high quality.11 For example, one of the requirements that higher education institutions need to meet in Japan in order to be accredited for the Certification System for Extension Programs is to have a quality assurance system in place to ensure the high quality of the training provided. Moreover, as the size of the youth population is on the decline in Japan, formal education institutions might see a decline in student numbers and therefore have unused capacity.

In the Japanese landscape of non-formal adult learning provided by higher education institutions, a central role is played by polytechnic centres.12 Established in all prefectures of Japan, this type of institutions offers a standard training of about six month that does not lead to a degree. Typically, the centres provide advanced training in the field of manufacturing (such as metalwork, electrical systems and technology). By law, polytechnic centres can be set up not only by the national government, but also by prefectures and employers, although currently all 46 facilities are set up by the Japan Organization for Employment of the Elderly, Persons with Disabilities and Job Seekers (JEED) on behalf of the national government, and can therefore be considered public educational institutions. A key advantage of this type of public, non-formal learning is that it can respond very quickly to training demands. For example, immediately after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the national government dispatched instructors from all over the country to the polytechnic centres in the five affected prefectures to carry out additional training.

In an effort to expand the provision of good-quality, online learning opportunities and make them available to a wider audience, a group of Japanese universities set up the Japan Massive Open Online Education Promotion Council (JMOOC) in 2014. The platform brings together 140 free online courses in a wide variety of fields. All programmes that are available on the platform have gone through an initial quality screening by JMOOC. The programmes offer an entire learning process, including viewing lecture videos, getting graded for tests and assignments, and receiving certificates of completion. The platform distinguishes between three categories of courses: i) university-level courses provided by universities; ii) courses provided by technical colleges and vocational schools and courses provided by public research institutions; and iii) courses provided by companies and enterprises. The platform has reached 500 000 enrolments, with most students being highly educated.

To help adults navigate public non-formal education programmes that are relevant for the labour market and adapted to their needs, in 2015 the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) introduced the “Brush Up Program for Professionals” (BP, Shokugyo Jissenryoku Ikusei Program). This initiative aims at certifying certain programmes offered by universities or other higher education institutions, that are recognised by the Japanese Government as well suited to improve the knowledge, abilities, and practical skills of working people in Japan. In particular, in order for courses to be accredited by the BP programme, 8 criteria need to be met:

  1. 1. The programme must be a regular course or Certification System for Extension Program of a university, graduate school, junior college or college of technology.

  2. 2. The programme must clearly define and publicize the types of jobs covered and the abilities that can be acquired through the course.

  3. 3. The curriculum must be suitable to acquire knowledge, technology and skills necessary for the target profession.

  4. 4. Classes using two or more of the following pedagogical methods must account for at least a certain number of hours (50% or more as a guide) of total class time:

    1. a. Classes given by practicing teachers or practitioners (generally 5 years or more of practical experience in the major);

    2. b. Interactive or multi-directional discussions (issue discovery and solution-oriented learning, workshops, etc.);

    3. c. Hands-on activities (internship, study abroad, field study, etc.);

    4. d. Classes in collaboration with companies (fieldwork with companies, etc.).

  5. 5. Students’ grades must be evaluated.

  6. 6. Self-assessments and evaluations must be performed, and their results (in terms of employment status of graduates, skills acquired, etc.) published.

  7. 7. The programme must have a system to systematically incorporate the opinions of companies in related fields in the formulation of the course.

  8. 8. The programme must develop ways to make it easier for working people to take courses (weekend/evening courses, intensive courses, IT utilisation, etc.).

As of May 2020, 282 courses were offered under the BP programme. Some accredited courses may also be eligible for Training benefit, depending on the university’s application: in 2019, over a third of the courses under the BP programme were eligible for benefits.

Private providers of non-formal adult learning are more flexible and can more easily adapt to the learners’ needs in terms of organisation and content of the training than public and formal education institutions. For example, given their non-degree nature, non-formal training courses by private providers can be more easily split in smaller, less intensive modules depending on the expertise of the learners, which can then be offered at times more practical for working adults to attend, such as at evening or weekends. Compared to universities and other large public educational institutions, private providers can also deploy services more quickly where demand for training emerges. For instance, it might be more cost-effective for private training centres to serve rural and less densely populated areas where public higher education institutions are not present. Non-formal, short training programmes have also proved fundamental during the COVID-19 crisis to address immediate demand pressures. Indeed, in the aftermath of the crisis, many OECD countries – such as France and the United States – quickly developed short training programmes to upskill health and medical professionals in knowledge related to pandemic response or to equip displaced workers with the basic skills required to temporarily fill roles in essential services (OECD, 2020[25]).

However, for training to be effective, it must be of good quality, and authorities often find it harder to ensure high quality levels of non-formal training in the private sector. In fact, while by its own definition all formal, public adult education is subject to quality controls by the national government, quality assurance mechanisms for non-formal, private providers are very scarce. As stressed by OECD (2021[26]), numerous reasons lie behind the difficulty of policy makers to ensure quality of non-formal adult training. First, quality assurance mechanisms usually require important financial and human capital investments that private providers may not be able to undertake. Second, contrary to public education institutions, private organisations often tend to shy away from bureaucracy. Third, the non-formal private market is commonly formed by numerous, small providers which are very diverse between themselves, making the assurance of a harmonised level of quality for the whole sector difficult.

In spite of these challenges, in the past few years the demand for accountability in the education sector has gradually increased and OECD countries are multiplying efforts towards the establishment of quality assurance mechanisms for non-formal adult learning. In the plethora of quality assurance mechanisms used throughout the OECD area, it is possible to identify two prevailing tools (OECD, 2021[26]). On the one hand, many countries – such as Austria, France and Switzerland – adopted quality certificates and labels. By imposing minimum requirements that training providers need to fulfil in order to be certified, quality certificates and labels guarantee a standard, homogenous level of quality of services. On the other hand, evaluations – done either by providers themselves or by external bodies – are also common, as in Norway and Slovenia. Their aim is to assess the current quality of training against the ultimate goal of setting up a plan to improve it in the near future.

The Japanese experience lies in-between the two approaches. At the end of 2011, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare issued a series of non-mandatory guidelines to ensure and improve the quality of services and management of private, non-formal training providers. The guidelines have been developed in accordance with the international standard ISO 29990, and are divided into two parts: (1) the first part deals with vocational training services and describes the identification of training needs, service design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of service; and (2) the second part concerns the management of private education and training institutions, and it describes the establishment of management systems, business strategy and planning, financial management and human resources management. The guidelines also include examples of service quality improvement practices and self-assessment tables to help private providers improve the quality of their own services.13

Since 2018, private education and training institutions that are actively following the Ministry’s guidelines can also apply for a certification, which guarantees that providers meet the guidelines’ requirements and henceforth ensures the good quality of their vocational training services.14 The benefits of obtaining the quality certification for providers include the possibility to be awarded extra points when applying to tenders for publicly-funded training opportunities in certain prefectures, as well as the right to use the quality label on communication materials (signboards, leaflets, business cards and websites) as a proof of the training quality. As it is typical the case for all quality labels in the OECD area, the certification does not guarantee the permanent conformity to the guidelines, but it remains valid only for three years.

The organisation entrusted with managing the quality certification is the Japan Association for Management of Training and Education (JAMOTE). The application process is composed by different phases:

  1. 1. Application: Private training providers meeting the quality guidelines and satisfying ten additional organisational requirements submit their application package to a certifying body.15 Providers can choose their preferred certifying body among a list of organisations accredited by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, each of which has its own characteristics, although the examination contents and procedures remain the same for all.

  2. 2. Examination: The certifying body performs a desk check of the application documents, and conducts an on-site inspection in the provider’s premises. Through these examinations, it is determined whether the provider meets the quality guidelines or not.

  3. 3. Report: The certifying body reports the results of the examination (conformity/nonconformity) to the Certification Committee.

  4. 4. Certification: The Certification Committee communicates the examination results, and, in case of conformity, gives the official certificate to the provider.

Since its inception, 20 private providers have been certified in 2018, and additional 14 providers have been approved in 2019.16 Although the total number of private providers of adult training in Japan is not known, it is reasonable to consider the proportion of providers receiving the national quality certification to be very low. Increasing the number of private providers with the quality certification should be a priority for public authorities. In fact, quality certificates have numerous advantages benefitting everybody involved in adult learning: they ensure that the investments the government and the learners themselves make in training provide good value for money; they build trust in the adult training system and create a virtuous quality culture; they are a tangible marker of prestige and credibility for providers, helping them stand out in a crowed training market.

To increase the take-up rate of the quality certification, a possibility would be to make the certificate mandatory to access public funds or to operate public training. This type of approach – commonly called “regulatory approach to quality assurance” – is widely used in many European countries, such as Austria (with the Ö-Cert label) and Switzerland (with the eduQua certification), and has recently been adopted by Korea (see Box 4.7). Acknowledging the direct benefits of certificates on the overall quality of adult training provision, some OECD countries which did not initially have a compulsory quality assurance systems are now gradually moving towards a regulatory approach. For instance, France’s quality certificate for adult training providers Qualiopi will become mandatory to access public funds in 2022. Similarly, in spite of being voluntary for almost two decades, Slovenia’s quality assurance system became mandatory for all adult learning providers in 2018.

Since the creation of the quality assurance guidelines in 2011, the Japanese Government has also realised the importance of linking the guidelines to some kind of incentives, announcing that from 2021 private providers will be required to have participated in informative sessions to learn about the guidelines within five years of being assigned training programmes sponsored by prefectural governments. While being a step forward, the guidelines (and their certificate) per se will still not have any enforcement power, given that the obligation would involve only participating to informative sessions and not hold the quality certificate itself. As such, in the next few years the Japanese Government may want to increase the incentives for training providers to apply for the quality certification and make the certificate mandatory to access public funds.

Another reason behind the disappointing number of quality certificates issued in Japan may lie in its cost. In fact, the examination and certification fee for the Japanese quality certificate is approximately JPY 400-500 000 (excluding tax), or around EUR 4 000. In addition, variable travel expenses for on-site examinations are also charged to providers. Overall, this turns out to be quite expensive compared to quality labels for adult learning in other OECD countries. For example, the Qualiopi label in France costs about EUR 1 500, the NRTO quality label in the Netherlands is EUR 900, while the Austrian Ö-Cert label is as cheap as EUR 100. Japanese providers themselves are not sure about the usefulness of the JAMOTE certification given its cost: in a recent survey, only 11% of certified providers stated that the advantages of acquiring the label were worth the cost.17 Prices of quality certificates are important for the take-up rate of the tool, especially for small training providers that do not have considerable financial resources.

Another key obstacle limiting the expansion of the non-formal private training sector in Japan is that prospective adult learners lack information about available courses and their quality. This would be especially problematic in rural areas which are outside the reach of providers’ marketing campaigns, and may harm particularly smaller providers, which are less visible. In particular, information about the quality of the training is hard to disseminate, and some adults may be discouraged to participate in training exactly because they cannot easily grasp which providers are worthy of their time and money.

To tackle asymmetries of information, many OECD countries have created specific online platforms with details on existing training programmes in order to help individuals, employers and institutions make informed adult learning decisions. For example, Australia’s national directory of vocational education and training providers and courses, MySkills (www.myskills.gov.au), allows users to search VET qualifications by industry and access information about average course fees, course duration, available subsidies and average employment outcomes. In France, the list of good-quality training providers is available in the DataDock online database (https://www.data-dock.fr). In Korea, information on all subsidised training programmes and their quality is published in the HRD-net portal (http://www.hrd.go.kr) – see Box 4.7 for more details.

In 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology also launched a portal site – Manapass (https://manapass.jp) – aimed at encouraging participation in adult learning. As of February 2020, 4 352 courses were registered in Manapass. However, the platform focuses mostly on programmes provided by public higher education institutions (with few exceptions). By contrast, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare hosts a separate website which lists all courses that are eligible for Training benefits, thereby partially including also some non-formal private training opportunities.18 Additional career guidance portals – such as the Hello Work website, the Job Card website, and the newly launched Occupational Information website – exist, each providing information on a subset of training programmes (these career guidance websites are carefully detailed in Chapter 7).

It would therefore be important for the Japanese authorities to create a unique, one-stop shop online platform that prospective adult learners can easily access to have an overview of all adult training possibilities, including both formal and non-formal courses. Information on the quality of the providers should also be disseminated to encourage the expansion of the Japanese training market towards more effective adult learning practices.

References

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Notes

← 1. This includes those who participated in training but report that there is a learning activity that they wanted to participate in and were unable to participate in.

← 2. The wage subsidy can be granted for at most 150 days per year, and is limited to one employee per firm in firms with less than 100 employees and two employees in larger firms.

← 3. Only part-time workers who are covered by employment insurance, have a permanent contract and have the same working conditions as regular employee (e.g. hourly basic salary, bonus payment, retirement benefits) can benefit from the education and training leave subsidies.

← 4. Formal training provision in Japan leads to a degree or recognised qualification that is taken up in the National Educational classification (a typical example is the Master of Business Administration).

← 5. Early Graduation is a system allowing students to graduate from higher education courses in a shorter time than what is typically the programme duration, conditional on excellent grades.

← 6. The Long-Term Study System aims to expand the learning opportunities of people who want to study while engaging in work by allowing the systematic study of curricula for periods that exceed the standard enrolment terms. For an overview of the system, see: https://www.ues.tmu.ac.jp/2019_pdf/chokirishunitsuite_en.pdf.

← 7. The Credit Accumulation System is a system in which credits acquired at multiple tertiary education institutions can be accumulated, and lead to a recognised degree (OECD, 2006[28]).

← 8. https://www.mext.go.jp/a_menu/koutou/itaku/__icsFiles/afieldfile/2016/06/02/1371459_01.pdf.

← 9. This is also confirmed when looking at the share of part-time students within tertiary education programmes, which is much lower in Japan than the OECD average. Only 3% of students in short-cycle tertiary programmes, 7% of students in master’s programmes and 9% of students in bachelor’s and doctoral programmes are enrolled on a part-time basis in Japan, while these shares range between 16% (bachelor’s programmes) and 26% (short-cycle tertiary programmes) on average across OECD countries (OECD, 2019[27]).

← 10. These data do not allow to distinguish between formal and non-formal training, but the low overall share of employers and workers using formal education institutions for training shows that both formal training and the use of formal education institutions for non-formal training is low.

← 11. Under School Education Act and Private schools Act, higher education institutions, both public and private, have to meet the Standards for Establishment of Universities to operate. The Standards for Establishment of Universities stipulates standards for curricula, teacher organisation, facilities and financial status. In order to continuously ensure high standards of quality, all higher education institutions, both public and private, are now required to regularly go through quality assurance assessments conducted by an independent accreditation organisations that are certified by the Ministry of Education.

← 12. Polytechnic centres should not be confused with polytechnic colleges. In fact, training in polytechnic colleges has a much longer duration, between 2 and 4 years. Moreover, courses attended in polytechnic colleges do not provide a degree as stipulated in the School Education Law of the Ministry of Education, but upon completion of the course students can be awarded the title of “Assistant Technician”, which is similar to a university degree. Therefore, unlike polytechnic centres, training in polytechnic colleges can be defined as a typology of formal education in a broad sense.

← 13. The full text of the guidelines are available in Japanese at: https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/11800000/000563676.pdf.

← 14. It is however important to note that the certificate only ensures the good quality of the designated courses submitted at the time of the application, and it does not certify that all vocational training services offered by the provider meet the guidelines.

← 15. The list of the 10 organisational requirements can be found at: https://www.minkan-guideline-tekigo.info/guide/index.html.

← 16. The full list of certified training providers in Japan is available at: https://www.minkan-guideline-tekigo.info/certification/index.html. For simple comparative purposes, it interesting to note that 460 adult learning providers have the Ö-Cert label in Austria and 1 000 providers have the eduQua certification in Switzerland.

← 17. https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/11801000/000587056.pdf.

← 18. https://www.kyufu.mhlw.go.jp/kensaku/SSR/SSR101Scr02S/SSR101Scr02SInit.form.

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