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Japan high-school graduates seeing hottest job market since 1996

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Job offers haven't been this good for Japan's high-school graduates since at least 1996, in another sign of a tightening job market as a result of the shrinking population.

[TOKYO] Job offers haven't been this good for Japan's high-school graduates since at least 1996, in another sign of a tightening job market as a result of the shrinking population.

The offers are helping boost prospects for a generation that grew up during the lost decades, and is one bright spot amid limited gains in wages.

Almost nine out of 10 prospective high-school graduates seeking a job for the fiscal year starting in April had found work as of Dec 31, which is the most since at least 1996, according to data from the education ministry. University grads also fared well: eight out of every 10 seekers had found work, the most since 2008, labour ministry data showed.

"The appetite to hire new graduates is increasing," said Yoshitaka Suda, an economist at Nomura Holdings. "This doesn't simply reflect the economic recovery; companies are becoming short on labour."

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It's a positive development for a small portion of Japan's workforce. Workers aged 15-24 years account for about 8 per cent of the total number of employed. The jobless rate for that age group was 7 per cent in January, easing below an average of 7.9 per cent over the past 10 years. The national jobless rate was 3.6 per cent in January.

In contrast to the broader labor market, where a shortage of workers has yet to translate into broader wage gains, there are signs that things are looking up for new grads. The average monthly starting salary for high school grads was 158,800 yen ($1,300) in 2014, up 1.8 percent from 2013, while that for college graduates was 200,400 yen last year, up 1.2 per cent from the previous year, according to the labor ministry.

About 38 per cent of high school grads who found jobs last year went to work in the manufacturing sector, while 14 per cent went to the wholesale and retail trade and 11 per cent to medical and welfare industries, according to the labor ministry.

Companies could boost salaries further this year as they scramble to secure young workers, said Mr Suda. High school grads could look forward to jobs that pay a little more than 2 per cent more than in 2014, while college grads might see a gain just under 2 per cent, he said.

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