The Japanese Human Resource Management
Before World War II: A Case of the Engineers
Faculty of Economics, Surugadai University, Tokyo
The purpose of this paper is to analyse the characteristics of the Pre-WW II Japanese corporate management from the perspective of the human resource development. The essential framework of the Japanese-style human resource management before WW II constituted differentiated employment by a few ranks; then, different duties and treatments followed accordingly. The initial ranks were determined by the level i.e. social recognition and overall academic achievement of new employees’ schools. Thus, the approach was called “an educational class system”. The graduates of either universities or polytechnics were hired as high-ranking employees with monthly payment, whilst the graduates of technical or commercial schools which were on a level with secondary education filled the posts of employee in semi-staff condition. Their wages were paid either monthly or daily. In the case of workmen with basic education at shop floors, the payment was only made daily. The gap of prestige and remuneration amongst the different ranks was distinctive 1 . This noticeable correlation between educational background and ex officio standing was developed within a group of large corporations from the beginning of the 20th century. Afterwards, during the 1920s and 30s, it became common in large-scale firms. It has been agreed that, as a key element of corporate employment, the custom of periodically employing new graduates of universities and other educational institutions characterised the growth of the Japanese internal labour market 2 .
Ujihara Syojirou, Nihon no Rousi-Kankei(Industrial Relations in Japan),Tokyo ,1968,pp62-76,
Sugayama Sinnji, 1920nendai Judenki Keiei no kakyu syokuinsou（Employment
Management of Junior Staff in Electrical Machinery Industry in the 1920’s: A Case Study of Hitachi Ltd）,Shakai-Keizai Sigaku(Socio-Economic History),vol53,no3,
There has been a general viewpoint that this “educational class system” was abolished by the Japanese policy of democratisation after WW II; nonetheless, my study points out a new fact that a couple of misapprehension exists there. The first misconception is that it was rather exceptional for a new employee with comparatively weak educational background to be promoted to a prestigious post despite his long commitment and contribution to his firm 3 . The second is that any potential disaccord between the highly ranked and compensated group of university graduates and the lower with basic education was dealt with by the former alongside the unique Japanese code of group behaviour. Especially, the superior engineers with university education were known to take a serious view of operatives’ works at shop floor more than assignments at laboratories; and this attitude was positively appraised in the past studies and discussed as a key success factor 4 .
Yet, the two standpoints seem invalid. The statements of the management and leading engineers of the period prove that the university graduates of engineering did not possess adequate knowledge for production operation. Besides, they did not show any preference to practices at shop floor and instead complained a lot about technical operations at workshops. The Japanese firms necessitated both university-educated engineers with theoretical knowledge and shop floor technicians with operational understanding, when they developed new products on the basis of imported western technologies. My research 5 has investigated the Japanese human resource management of pre-war Japanese corporations, and it presents that the technicians were mostly the graduates of technical schools which were on a level with secondary education and, even in some cases, those with only elementary education. They were, at the beginning, hired as a junior group of workforce i.e. workmen or...
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