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Japanese Trucking Companies Turn to Women to Fill Driver Shortage

Japanese commercial transportation firms are turning to women to help overcome the nation’s growing shortage of truck drivers. It’s a trend many US-based transportation companies would like to kick-start in 2015.

As is the case in the United States, Japan’s commercial transportation industry has long been dominated by men. However, with the Asian nation’s population rapidly aging, Japan faces crippling worker shortages across a variety of critical industries. The shift is forcing everyone to re-think acceptable gender roles in the workplace.

The extent of Japan’s worker shortage is really quite staggering. Between January 2007 and October 2014, the nation’s working-age population shrunk by 7 per cent. Today, there are now 10 per cent more job vacancies than job applicants in Japan.

“There were always female applicants in the past but we didn’t hire them,” admits Eiji Shimizu, an executive at trucking firm Shimizu Unyu. “There were many applications for our jobs so we had no difficulty hiring staff, and we were afraid that women wouldn’t be able to work for long periods because of the nature of the work, which involves handling and loading packages.”

Requiring women to perform traditionally male jobs has become a necessity for many companies inside and outside the commercial transportation industry. Currently, it’s estimated that 67 per cent of Japan’s working-age women are employed.

Atsushi Seike, a labour economics professor at Keio University, says it’s a positive trend. “It’s really great news,” Seike says. “We have wasted a talented female workforce in the past.”

Many of the women entering the male-dominated trucking industry would agree with that statement. Rumi Yoshida, a truck driver based in Tokyo, says she loves the “freedom” that comes with her new profession. “I don’t think it’s unsuitable for women,” Yoshida adds. “My male colleagues don’t treat me any differently.”