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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Scholarships for Helping Hands

Feb. 1, 2017

Japan's demand for caregivers is increasing as the population ages. Bringing in personnel from abroad is one way to meet that need. And one Japanese nursing school is attracting foreign students by offering them substantial scholarships.

Twelve Vietnamese students enrolled in a vocational school in Wakayama in the fall. Their goal is to become Certified Care Workers. They study Japanese five days a week.

"I want to study the language, specialized subjects, and nursing care," says one of the students.

Japan's government estimates that by 2025, nearly a third of the population will be senior citizens. The nation may face a shortage of 380,000 nurses and caregivers.

That prospect led to a change in the law. People from overseas who graduate from Japanese schools as Certified Care Workers now are allowed to stay.

Yoshio Inoue, the principal of a vocational school in Wakayama in western Japan, sees the change as an opportunity.

He went to Vietnam in 2015 to ask nursing students if they'd be interested in studying at his school and working in Japan.

"I conducted one-on-one interviews and observed them studying. I thought they could become outstanding caregivers in Japan," says Inoue.

He narrowed his recruitment to students in medical fields that overlap with nursing care.

Those making the move would study the basics of nursing care, and the Japanese language, for four years. Becoming certified as Care Workers would allow them to remain in the country.

One problem, though -- funding.

Inoue raised enough money from caregiving facilities in his community to offer scholarships... up to nearly 60-thousand dollars per student.

That’s enough to cover four years of tuition and living expenses. The graduates then would join the staff of the places that provided the funding for at least five years.

"I’ve been telling people at the nursing homes that these students are not cheap labor. I've asked them to nurture these caregivers, so that they can go on to be mainstays of the facilities as full-time employees," says Inoue.

At one participating nursing home lessons include hands-on, practical training.

"Did you sleep well last night?" one trainee asks a patient.

"Yes, I slept well," she responds.

The real-world activity also helps with picking up basic Japanese.

"Caregiving may not be easy, but it's enjoyable. I’m going to work hard," says the trainee.

The facility accepted four of the students. If things work out, it will be a good investment.

Facility owner Mariko Yokoyama sees the recruitment of trainees from Vietnam as a positive move.

"They brighten up the workplace. I think putting up the scholarship money is worthwhile, she says.

Hisako Nakai from Osaka University of Human Sciences says public funding should be available too:

"Whether they’re from Japan or some other country, all caregivers need the same skills.

"The job requires teamwork. People need support before they actually work in the field, so I think the government should provide some help with the training," she says.

Individual patients, of course, will benefit from the presence of caregivers. But so will society as a whole.

If students from overseas are to meet those needs, funding may have to come from a variety of sources.


NHK World's Saaya Inoue in Wakayama discusses the issue with Aki Shibuya.

Shibuya: Saaya, I was surprised to hear that scholarships worth nearly 60-thousand-dollars each are available to overseas students.

Inoue: That's right. The fact is, it's difficult to find people in Japan who want to become caregivers.

Although demand for care help is growing here, often young people prefer less physical work.

I recently covered a seminar for caregiving centers thinking of hiring from abroad.

More than 120 people from retirement homes and other facilities attended.

Shibuya: Do you think the number of foreign students studying nursing care in Japan is likely to increase?

Inoue: In the past there were around 20 such foreign students a year.

Now, that's up to more than 250.

There are plenty of young people in South East Asia willing to learn the job while earning the higher wages on offer in Japan.

And changes to employment law mean their numbers are likely to grow for at least the next several years.