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Technical Intern Training Program Results Report

Case 2: Studying for Advanced Grades Brought More Than Skills (The Central Shimane Apparel Cooperative, Unnan, Shimane)

Hearing about a cooperative working hard to get trainees certified on advanced grades of the National Trade Skills Tests, JITCO visited the Central Shimane Apparel Cooperative (CSAC) located in Unnan, Shimane. CSAC consists of 11 apparel manufacturers. All technical interns of CSAC are required to take the Provisional Grade 3 of the Skills Tests in the men's suit making or ladies' and children's dress making category. The trainees went through a lot of drama in their attempt to pass the Skills Test. The following stories illustrate how test taking has brought many additional benefits to the cooperative.

 Central Shimane Apparel Cooperative

Central Shimane Apparel Cooperative

CSAC began working on the advanced-grade certification seriously in 2003. One of the affiliated companies, Ota Sewing Co. Ltd, (to be introduced later) had already begun with certification in 2000, and discovered that these advanced tests brought positive effect more than just skills acquisition. All affiliated companies decided unanimously to put test preparation into the training curriculum. "Ota Sewing showed good results from utilizing certification, and other member companies naturally started thinking, 'Why don't we try it, too?' It was good that we could start spontaneously," explains the cooperative's Representative Vice-President Takayuki Kaneyama.

Representative Vice-President Takayuki Kaneyama

Representative Vice-President Takayuki Kaneyama

"When we first suggested the advanced-grade tests to our trainees, some of them showed concerns. We explained the importance of the advanced-grade certification in the Training Program, and encouraged them to prove their skills in the nation-wide examination. Finally, trainees agreed to give it a try.

"However, having no previous experience, the cooperative couldn't think of the ways to prepare the trainees for the test.

Counselor Kunio Asano

Counselor Kunio Asano

"Trainees, having made up their minds, showed great enthusiasm, asking, 'When are you coming to help us study?' and, 'When can we practice?' It was a bit of a challenge to match up to their great energy. Unlike the easier Basic Grade 2 test, the written section of the Provisional Grade 3 test requires the ability to understand kanji, even though it has hiragana written above it. We need to spend more time teaching Japanese so the trainees can understand the terminology.

Exercises Made by Counselor Asano

Exercises Made by Counselor Asano

"We felt the need to respond to the trainees' commitment. We went to the Shimane Vocational Ability Development Association many times to ask them how our trainees could prepare for and pass the Provisional Grade 3 test. The cooperative then took preparatory measures for the test, " Mr. Kaneyama recalls.

Cooperative Counselor Kunio Asano leads the instruction for the written test. The way to maintain a great system for advanced-grade preparation is to divide up the responsibilities between the cooperative and the accepting companies, such as, 'The cooperative focus on the written test, while the companies train the skills.' Prior to the test, trainees tackle approximately 200 comprehensive questions Mr. Asano has developed. "When we started this, there weren't any exercise books available for the Provisional Grade 3 in men's suit making. So, I picked some easy samples from the Grade 2 books and also made new questions for our technical interns," Mr. Asano recalls (Notes: From the year 2008, the written section of the actual test for the Provisional Grade 3 has been released). He also analyzes the mistakes his trainees have made in exercises and follows up them.

"All trainees who took the test have passed! We are really happy that all the hard work has paid off," Mr. Kaneyama smiles.

With all the interns having successfully passed the test, some interns feel pressured and refuse to take the test. The cooperative tells them that they can believe in their abilities just like those of the interns who have passed it after the same training. When it is mentioned that some technical interns have been promoted to managers after they went back to their home country with the certification, and that certification could be an advantage in the event of program revision for re-entry training, all trainees have been convinced and decided to take the test.

Being asked about the biggest challenge, Mr. Asano said, "The experienced trainees can learn quickly with minimal instruction, but others need to work harder to improve. Bringing inexperienced trainees up to speed is the most challenging task." He believes it crucial that proper training is provided when trainees are preparing for the Basic Grade 2 tests. The solid foundation built at the earlier stage does make wonders for the Provisional Grade 3 preparation process. Also, the cooperative informs trainees that the award money from JITCO for passing the test is only provided when they succeed in their first attempt, urging trainees to focus even more.

For the question about effects on taking the advanced-grade test in the training, Mr. Asano replied that the trainees have stronger bonds with one another. For example, trainees help each other to pass the tests and those who are already certified try to teach their knowledge to those who are still preparing. Trainees work closely together for the same goal. The second benefit is that trainees learn more Japanese language. The test has motivated them to improve their language skills even further. Lastly, having a goal gives trainees extra energy and propels them to become active learners in their daily lives, and their efforts are reflected in their work performance.

Aikoh Sewing Co. Ltd.

Aikoh Sewing Co. Ltd.

Following the interview at the Central Shimane Apparel Cooperative, JITCO visited one of the cooperative's affiliate companies, Aikoh Sewing Co. Ltd., also located in Unnan, Shimane. Aikoh Sewing, founded in 1988, is a 10-employee clothing company that manufactures men's trousers and casual pants. The company began accepting trainees in 1996.

The company starter looking to the advanced-grade testing as part of their training, expecting that the upcoming revision of the Training and Technical Internship Program may make it possible for trainees with certification to be trained again after the designated period of three years.

Mr. Kaneyama and Trainees with the Photos of the Successful Test Takers

Mr. Kaneyama and Trainees with the Photos of the Successful Test Takers

Aikoh Sewing lets trainees use the company facilities before and after business hours for practices of the test. During the practices, each task is timed to be completed within test requirements. Also, Japanese employees are available to answer trainees' questions.

Successful test takers Meng Lingmei and Xu Zhenglan commented, "We received the exercise book and began studying everyday in break times and after work. There were so many words we didn't understand. It was really difficult to memorize them all."


Ota Sewing Co. Ltd.

Ota Sewing Co. Ltd.

JITCO then visited another affiliated company, Ota Sewing Co. Ltd., located in Ota, Shimane. Ota Sewing, founded in 1977, is a clothing company with 50 employees manufacturing men's jackets. The company began accepting trainees in 1999.

Sewing Manager Norio Wada took us to a room with photos of trainees who passed the Provisional Grade 3 tests. Mr. Wada confidently points out that there will be more photos to come. There will eventually be enough photos on the whole walls, he chuckled.

Sewing Manager Norio Wada

Sewing Manager Norio Wada

"Supporting trainees to take these tests can be quite a strain. Trainees, however, learn the joy of challenging themselves through this process. The improvement in their motivation for studying is tremendous once they decide to give it a try, which actually is the biggest merit of this whole attempt. Also, by learning the entire processes of sewing, trainees become able to plan ahead for their own tasks, " Mr. Wada explains.

Mr. Asano, who also joined this interview, pointed out that the tasks required for the test are identical to the jobs that technical interns learn at Ota Sewing, a great advantage. It almost looks as if 'trainees are studying for the test every day' at Ota Sewing.

Technical Interns Who Have Passed the Test

Technical Interns Who Have Passed the Test

Wang Xiuling, a trainee who passed the test commented, "After I passed the test, the company took a photo of me and put it up in the office. Seeing that, I felt my hard work was all worthwhile. Anyone can pass as long as they put their best effort into it."

Mr. Asano says that, after six years, the company has finally become sufficient in preparing for the advanced-grade tests, and has begun to understand testing practices. Previously, trainees would blame the staff, saying, "What we studied wasn't on the test. What are you going to do about it?" Mr. Asano laughed to himself. "It is very hard at the beginning, but everyone gets the hang of it after a few tries. It is essential that the cooperative and the companies work together," Mr. Asano says.

The cooperative's focused advanced-grade certification efforts bring better outcomes in assessing accepting situations at affiliate companies. When cooperative staff visit these companies for audits, the communication hasn't been as open as they hoped, but the interaction is easier when cooperative staff come in as instructors for the test.

Communicating among the affiliated companies on the test results boosts the overall awareness of trainees. The cooperative also tells the companies, 'Trainees in that company passed the test,' to give them a sense of urgency.

Other than acquisition of skills, the advanced-grade tests have provided so many unforeseen effects.

A Technical Intern at Work

A Technical Intern at Work

Mr. Asano believes that it is possible for his trainees to pass the Grade 2 of the National Trade Skills Tests once scheduling and the Japanese section of the test can be worked out. To make that happen, he says, it is necessary to have a stronger support system with study materials and also to detail the advantages for the companies in promoting test taking.

The cooperative intends to encourage sending organizations to send motivated trainees with skills who are prepared to take advanced-grade certification.

This series of interviews has provided us with the insight that it is important to understand the Training and Technical Internship Program in accordance with its purpose in human resources development. Following this approach has been the most effective way to run this program smoothly. We hope the program continues to grow, taking advantage of the multiple benefits of the current approach.