Young Indonesians training to care for Japan’s elderly

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Looking after the elderly, which is part of Indonesian tradition, was not something new for Rizka Putri Yulianti, but when she decided to become a caregiver, it came with unfamiliar territory that she had to learn to navigate: Japanese culture.

The 23-year-old has already spent months at a nursing school in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, learning how to read, write and speak Japanese, and understand and adhere to the country’s unique customs.

“I have been training to get accustomed with Japanese culture, which means getting used to greeting others regularly, maintaining cleanliness and also to be more disciplined,” Yulianti said.

She is among some 70 students at Onodera User Run, a vocational institution catering to Indonesians looking for employment in Japan, a country that has the highest proportion of people aged 65 and above.

With the elderly comprising nearly a third of its population, Japan is experiencing a labor crunch. A survey conducted last year by Tokyo-based research company Teikoku Databank showed that more than half of Japanese companies were suffering from a shortage of full-time employees.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has a much younger population, with millennials and Gen Z making up more than half of its 270 million people.

“Indonesia has plenty of young workforce who are known for being hardworking, polite and courteous,” Yulianti said.

“Young workers from Indonesia are capable of taking care of the elderly.”

They can be legally employed under a new visa scheme for “specified skilled workers,” which gives foreign nationals easier access to work in Japan in sectors like food service, agriculture and nursing care.

Over 340,000 job vacancies were opened under the scheme in 2019 but according to Hiroki Sasaki, labor attache at the Japanese embassy in Jakarta, only about 130,000 of them have so far been filled, mostly by Vietnamese and Indonesians.

“We’d like more and more young Indonesians to be interested in Japan and thinking about working in Japan,” Sasaki said. “Japanese society needs more Indonesian young power.”

For young Indonesians, the Japanese market is an opportunity to escape unemployment at home. While Indonesia’s overall unemployment rate is lower than 6 percent, about a third of those unemployed are aged 20-24.

Working in Japan, whose development is widely looked up to in Indonesia, comes with the chance of a better future.

“This might be my chance to have a career in Japan,” said Andini Fadiyah Putri, a 21-year-old who, like Yulianti, is studying at Onodera User Run in Jakarta.

She started her course in October and is now waiting for exams that will determine if she qualifies for employment in the East Asian country.

“After I finished with the Japanese curriculum, we were taught caregiving skills, both practical and theory, such as how to bathe seniors and how to feed them,” she said.

“It’s been really helpful … to see what my future might look like.”

Onodera User Run also has branches in Cambodia and Vietnam, offering training in language and sectors like caregiving and food processing under the Japanese government’s foreign employment program.

For the school’s principal, Kamila Mansjur, caregiving, in particular, is a good fit for Indonesian workers.

“Indonesians are known for their hospitality and manners, and then to take care of the elderly you need hard workers,” she said.

“We hope that our program can give a positive impact on both countries, wherein Japan can meet their need of foreign workers and in Indonesia we can reduce the unemployment rate.”

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