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A quick guide to getting hired through haken in Japan

Haken (派遣) is the Japanese word for temporary employees dispatched to companies by staffing agencies. We sat down with Diego Utiyama, Representative Director and co-founder of the staffing company Spotted Staffing, to talk about haken and why it’s important to get rid of the stigma around it.

Hello, Diego! Please tell us about haken and its history in Japan. 

Haken became popular in Japan in the 80s when the economic bubble sparked a surge in the demand for factory workers. As hiring permanent employees became a challenge, the government introduced tokutei haken (特定派遣) system to fill in factories with temporary workers and ease the burden on the labour market. Operating a tokutei haken business didn’t require much capital, and many staffing companies popped up across the country. That is why even nowadays many people in Japan still associate haken with low-wage factory work. 

However, today's haken is very different from what it used to be. Tokutei haken has been abolished, and only ippan haken (一般派遣) companies are allowed to operate legally. To get an ippan haken license, companies should fulfill several requirements such as 20 million yen in capital and are required to follow compliance regulations that mandate equality and fair pay. New law revisions expanded the list of permitted occupations to solve the mismatches among relatively highly skilled workers. Software engineers are not the majority in the market but since the Japanese economy is acutely in need of technology skilled workers, it’s becoming more common to hire engineers through haken.

Haken’s bad reputation is very much because of historical reasons. But for the most part, the way it’s being used these days has nothing to do with the original tokutei haken, and it is a very efficient way for IT companies (among others) to ease the pressure on their hiring needs. 

How does a haken employment system work?

In short, a haken company hires the employee under their payroll and dispatches them to work at the client’s site based on a service agreement between the staffing company and the client company. All documentation related to employment is taken care of by the staffing company as well as taxes, pension, health and unemployment insurance. The employee is then assigned to a client's project and reports to a client’s supervisor. 

Unlike permanent worked called seishain (正社員), a haken employee has a specified labour contract length. For factory workers, contracts could be as short as one month but for IT jobs, three to six months renewable contract is the most common. According to the law, when your contract hits three years, the company has to either convert you into a permanent employee, transfer you to another department or cease the contract at all. 

Does it mean that your official employer is a haken company?

Correct. Haken company is the one you sign your contract with and the one who issues you an employment contract for your visa renewal. 

The person’s Linkedin profile might say they work as a software engineer at Google but could actually be employed through the haken agency. At the end of the day, a resume is just a piece of paper that is taken into consideration by potential employers only. If having the client's name brings them more opportunities than putting my staffing company’s name, I don’t mind it unless the client states the opposite. 

What are the advantages of haken compared to the regular employee?

Some top-tier companies are really difficult to get into because of their high quality standards and the high number of applications. But if you are dispatched to their office for six months and do a fantastic job there, there is a possibility that you may end up hired as a permanent employee after your haken contract ends. 

Getting hired through haken company is fast and straightforward. The first formal step in the interview process is a casual meeting with a staffing agency that should determine whether an applicant is a right candidate for a company. It is followed by a chat with a client’s representative that is entirely focused on the candidate’s ability to deliver what the company expects. As a rule, one of the haken staff joins the meeting to ensure the candidate's skills are properly evaluated.  

Some companies include the pay for the overtime work in the monthly salary that an employee can expect to receive, for instance 40 to 45 hours per month. In case of haken, if you do overtime you are entitled to 25% more than your standard hourly rate. I had candidates who turned down a permanent offer because of unpaid overtime work. 

How much do you expect to be paid through haken? 

An hourly wage for junior tech support engineers is from 1700 to 2500 yen. Project managers are usually on the high end and get paid anywhere up to 7000 per hour.

On top of that, the haken agency adds its percentage (margin) that can be adjusted depending on the negotiations with a client.  

What companies hire dispatch tech workers in Japan?

The haken employment system is widely used by automobile companies Nissan and UD Trucks, insurance providers Metlife and AXA, investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs and of course, tech giants like Rakuten.

In the past, it used to be just the gigantic ones but more and more the smaller companies now see the benefits of hiring engineers through haken. For example, one of our clients at Spotted Staffing is a mobility startup that has been recently acquired by a large manufacturing company. 

Any advice for people who would like to get hired through haken? 

If you are interested in being employed through haken, it's important to understand its business model and weigh your expectations. The company might not be able to offer you a permanent position, but it is a great opportunity to get your feet in its door. You’ll likely be on your own - haken employees are expected to deliver from day one and usually, they are hired for specific tasks rather than broad responsibilities. 

Be enthusiastic about your interview and thoroughly research about the company you'll be working for. Define your goals: do you want to become a permanent employee or just want to explore how it looks from the inside. 

How is the experience of a Haken employee?

We’ve asked one of ourLe Wagon Tokyo alumni Luke Chatelain, now working as a Product Manager at Rakuten, dispatched from Robert Walters.

Hi, Luke! Can you tell us a bit more about your day-to-day experience as a Haken employee working for Rakuten?

Although I was a bit hesitant at first about accepting a contract position, my experience over the past 4 months has helped jump-start my career in IT.

Transitioning fields and looking for work in a new country seemed like a pretty daunting experience, but the recruiter I interacted with really felt like someone who was on my side, providing encouragement and advice along the way.

Although my contract says Robert Walters, I’ve felt like a true Rakuten employee from day one. Every day I’m in the office working with the team and managers just like anyone else at the company.

One of the best perks about being a contract employee is that every minute worked, is a minute paid.  This encourages employers to not force their staff to stay any longer than is needed, and if I do have to work overtime, I get paid more for it.

Haken positions allow new staff an easier path into high-profile companies. Although the limited contract may make someone feel a bit uneasy, bosses recognize that you’re still an investment and want to see you succeed. At the end of the day, even if your time at that particular company is short, the experience you gain through it is highly transferable to anywhere else.

Thank you so much for your time, Diego and Luke! Good luck with your work and projects. 

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