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Japan's Silver Human Resources Centers: Undertaking an Increasingly Diverse Range of Work

Silver Human Resources Centers aim to create dynamic communities and to support meaningful and fulfilling lifestyles for older persons through the provision of appropriate work opportunities for people generally age 60 or over who desire to participate in society through a work style that suits them. The first Silver Human Resources Center was established in Tokyo in 1974, and it was a new framework for older persons to work in the community. Centers were opened throughout the nation with the amendment of the Law concerning Stabilization of Employment of Older Persons in 1986. Today there are Silver Human Resources Centers in about 1,600 municipalities throughout Japan, and registered Center members total approximately 790,000 people nationwide, including 530,000 men and 260,000 women, as of the end of December 2005.

Each Center is contracted work by corporations, households, public organizations, and others and then it allots the work to its registered members based on the work content, frequency, and volume. Members receive a financial disbursement from the Center calculated based on the content of the work they performed and the number of hours they spent. The financial disbursement paid to members as work compensation averages about 50,000 to 60,000 yen a month.

The work that Centers undertake can be roughly divided into seven categories, including indoor and outdoor general work (park cleanup, weeding, building janitorial work, poster hanging, etc.), facility administration (administration of car parking lots, bicycle parking lots, schools, community centers, and buildings, etc.), and office work (general office work, reception work, addressing of envelopes, etc.)

Types of Work Undertaken by Silver Human Resources Centers

Work Category Examples
General Work Park cleanup, weeding, building janitorial work, product control, poster hanging, flyer distribution
Facility Administration Parking lot administration, bicycle control, administration of schools, community centers, and buildings
Specialized Knowledge Bookkeeping、translation, editing, driving, computer operation, instruction of cram classes
Technical Skills Plant pruning, painting, carpentry work, air conditioner repair, repapering of sliding screens (fusuma and shoji)
Office Work General office work, reception work, survey work, hand-writing of addresses using pens, copying of documents using brushes
Customer Interface/ Door-to-Door Work Pamphlet distribution, payment collection, pickup and delivery service, sales, reading of water and gas meters
Services Traffic control, housekeeping assistance, distribution of city newsletters, etc.

Applying the Experience and Expertise of Older People to Meet Community Needs

The pie chart below gives a breakdown by type of the work undertaken by Tokyo's Silver Human Resources Centers in fiscal 2005. Tokyo's Centers have a total registered membership of about 78,000. According to these statistics compiled by the Federation of Tokyo Silver Human Resources Centers, general work (park cleanup, etc.) constitutes about 40 percent of all work orders received while facility administration (administration of buildings and bicycle parking lots, etc.) makes up approximately 33 percent. These two work categories alone represent together over 70 percent of all work orders. Orders for work that requires technical skills (gardening/landscaping, carpentry, painting, sewing, etc.) and work that requires specialized knowledge or experience (translation, bookkeeping and accounting, instruction of cram classes and PC classes) are on the rise. Thus, the work undertaken by Tokyo's Silver Human Resources Centers is diversifying with the experience and skills of the registered members and the needs of the community.

Work Orders Received by Tokyo's Silver Human Resources Centers in FY2005
No. of people (%)
Work Orders Received by Tokyo's Silver Human Resources Centers in FY2005
Note:“No. of people” is the total number of people who undertook the given type of work. Source: Statistics compiled by the Federation of Tokyo Silver Human Resources Centers

Some Centers offer a variety of free classes and training programs to members so that they can handle a wider range of work orders. Short-term classes include those on building janitorial work and plant pruning while long-term training programs include those on home helper/nursing care services and PC operation. Each Center conducts training programs that meet the needs of its members.

In recent years, more and more Silver Human Resources Centers have been undertaking special work that they did not perform in the past, including the provision of services, goods manufacturing, and specialized skills, with the aim of responding to various local needs.

Traditional and New Services

The most common service provided by Silver Human Resources Centers is assistance with housekeeping and childrearing and support of the lifestyles of older persons living alone. This is one type of work that almost all Centers in Japan perform.

Six years ago, the Silver Human Resources Center in Hokkaido's Eniwa City launched a meal delivery service in addition to the services just mentioned. The Center delivers meals to the homes of older persons and others in the community. A team of about 20 people led by qualified dietitians and chefs prepares and delivers about 100 meals a day to the community.

The Silver Human Resources Center in Shiga Prefecture's Otsu City has added pet-care services to its list of housekeeping services. When pet owners are away or if they injure themselves, a Center member provides pet care, including dog walking services. This type of work is meaningful and enjoyable for animal lovers.

The Silver Human Resources Center in Tokyo's Fuchu City offers a bedding (FUTON) drying service. A team of two people travel around the city in a truck equipped with a large bedding dryer. They visit mainly the homes of older persons and dry their bedding for them. The service has been offered every weekday, except for holidays, since the service was launched in June 2006, and the dryer is always in full operation. While waiting for the bedding, the Center members are enjoyed in friendly chat with customers and listen to their requests and complaints.

Traditional and New Goods Making

Many Centers manufacture and sell local specialty items. The Centers make and sell jams, snacks, pickles, and other food products made of locally produced ingredients. One of the selling points is that no preservatives or additives are used in the foods. This service is typical of Silver Centers where the knowledge and experience of older persons are put to expert use.

Centers are very active in refurbishing recycled goods. Most Centers in city areas are involved in bicycle recycling. They repair and remodel abandoned bicycles and sell them as recycled goods for about 4,000 to 6,000 yen each. The recycled bikes are equivalent to new bicycles, but as they are inexpensive sales are quite good. Some Centers also do large-scale recycling, including refurbishing and selling chests of drawers and other furniture collected as bulky trash.

Some Centers offer full-fledged tailoring services, including clothing makeovers. They make aprons, vests, and knick-knacks from unusable pieces of cloth and then sell them. Altogether more than 50 Centers nationwide offer sewing services.

One interesting example of goods making is mulch making. The Silver Human Resources Center in Hokkaido's Kitahiroshima City has been commissioned by the city to clean the parks for many years. Members collect the fallen leaves of hardwood trees while cleaning the park and then add fermentation accelerator or rice bran to make mulch. They started to produce and sell the mulch four years ago, and their mulch is known for its high quality and good germination rate. About 15 Centers in Japan manufacture and sell mulch.

Services Utilizing Specialized Skills

Many Centers undertake work related to assisting schoolchildren with their studies, including supplementary or review classes for elementary and junior high school students. Some classes are held only during the summer while other classes are held several times a week throughout the year. In both cases, members use their experience in elementary and junior high education to serve as partners for the children in completing their homework and other study assignments.

Many Centers in Japan also hold classes mainly for older persons. The Silver Human Resources Center in Saitama Prefecture's Hasuda City offers English conversation lessons as well as classes on Japanese folk songs and weaving. Drawing on the hobbies of its registered members, the Center in Chiba Prefecture's Abiko City offers a full range of classes, from watercolor painting, ink brush painting, woodcarving, and knitting to kimono dress-up class and haiku composition. The Silver Human Resources Center in Osaka's Habikino City offers an even wider range of classes, including karaoke singing, decoupage, ballroom dancing, yoga, calligraphy, ink painting, watercolor painting, flower arranging, tea ceremony, and Japanese dressmaking. This spectrum of classes is sure to cover all hobby interests.

The Silver Human Resources Center in Tokyo's Mitaka City offers an unusual service which is an excellent example of how Centers can make optimal use of members' experience and specialized skills. Three years ago, former employees of a video production company who were members of the Center started a Video Team, and they have been commissioned to produce a variety program called Silver Discovery for the local cable television. The camerapersons who charge around the city filming the practice sessions of the local chorus group and other events are all members of the Mitaka Center. This activity is a brand-new frontier for Silver Human Resources Centers and puts to excellent use the professional experience and specialized skills of members.

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