Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Issue of Outsourcing

Robert Aspinall, PALE Coordinator

Introduction: What is Outsourcing?

Outsourcing firms are a major part of Japan’s employment sector. Haken Kaisha or temp agencies have flourished at a time of economic uncertainty. They provide workers in every conceivable field, and advertise themselves as offering flexibility and variety to employers and employees alike. Many professional translators in Japan work for this kind of agency. Outsourcing is not new to the eikaiwa industry. English teaching companies like GEOS, NOVA, ECC etc. draw up contracts with customers (up till now these have usually been private companies who need to improve the English skills of their employees) to send a teacher or teachers a set number of hours per week for a set fee. The English teaching companies need to cover their overheads and make a profit and so the fee they receive per hour is of course more than the pay the teachers receive. This system removes the necessity for the customer to deal with problems related to employing foreign teachers.

PALE members and other have recently reported anecdotal evidence of the extension of this outsourcing system to the public sector, for example boards of education, the semi-public sector (since national universities have now been semi-privatised), and to the non-profit sector (private universities are non-profit making organizations). Problems of various kinds inevitably arise when profit-making firms provide teaching services to non-profit-making schools.

Some Problems
1. Teachers provided by outsourcing companies tend to be young and inexperienced. (I want to make it clear that this is not the case for ALL teachers or ALL outsourcing companies, but it does seem to be a general trend.) After staring with an outsourcing company (maybe for the purposes of getting visa sponsorship) young teachers often look for better paid work as soon as they are able. Thus the turnover of teachers is high.

2. Often the names of individual teachers are not used on the material published by the school (because names may change frequently during the course of a year). Because of their transient nature, it is difficult for the teachers to build relationships with students and other members of the teaching staff.

3. Teachers provided by outsourcing companies are usually unable to get involved in the life of the schools they work at outside the classroom, in club activity, social events etc.

4. Because outsourced teachers are employed by their company and not by the school or board of education it means they are not involved in any negotiations over pay and conditions that apply to other members of the teaching staff. This means that there are effectively two sectors of employees in the school. This opens up the possibility that one can be played off against the other.

5. Problems arise over the ownership of materials that are produced for use in the classroom. When everyone is in the public sector the idea of ownership does not apply. Good teachers are always willing to share their ideas with colleagues. However, when a private company is involved in providing an educational product they regard their teaching materials and ideas as private property.

What can JALT and PALE do?
The information I have seen so far is anecdotal. I have also heard of cases of schools looking into outsourcing and then changing their minds. So one thing JALT and PALE could do is to find out from their members more data about this phenomenon. Also, representatives of outsourcing companies should be allowed to put their case.

After finding out more about outsourcing, JALT could consider taking an official position on this subject. This could be linked to other JALT initiatives that I have heard of related to ensuring proper professionalism in the field English teaching (ensuring that English teachers have a minimum standard of qualification etc). JALT’s Standing Committee on Employment Practices (SCOEP) of which I am the chairperson will also be doing further work on this problem.


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