TOKYO — Japan Inc. is increasingly relying on senior employees to fill job vacancies, as companies face labor shortages made more acute by the economic recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Electronics retailer Nojima has removed an employee age limit of 80, effectively this month. The move signals how tight the labor market is, and zipper manufacturer YKK Group has even cut the retirement age.

Of Nojima’s 3,000 full-time employees, around 10 are aged 75 and older. The company will also now hire new staff over the age of 80. These senior staff will each earn about 120,000 yen ($1,056) a month for five hours a day over a four-day week. Existing work contracts will now be extended if the staff are healthy and have no objections.

In July 2020, Nojima revised company rules to allow employees to continue working as temporary staff on one-year contracts until the age of 80 once they have passed their 65th birthdays. However, many employees said they wanted to continue working beyond the age of 80.

Nojima is known for its customer service that does not rely on sales support staff from manufacturers. As such, it considers its senior sales staff with their wide product knowledge and solid customer bases as valuable assets.

YKKm meanwhile, in April also made it possible for employees to continue working as full-time employees for as long as they want. In some cases, employees who have reached or passed retirement age can keep their pay if their bosses rate them highly, according to the company.

Nojima and YKK are trying to hire more staff but the acute labor shortage in Japan has given them little room for maneuver. Nojima, for example, plans to hire 870 new employees in the spring of 2022, but it has so far only managed to rope in 700.

Japan is facing a serious labor problem. According to a 2017 estimate by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Japan’s working population or those aged 15 to 64 will fall to 59.78 million in 2040. That marks a decrease of 17.5 million from 2015. On the other hand, those aged 65 and older are expected to account for 35.3% of Japan’s total population by 2040.

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