Asia's Computer Challenge: Threat or Opportunity for the United States & the World?

By Jason Dedrick; Kenneth L. Kraemer | Go to book overview

toral degrees in engineering, compared to 5,696 in the United States. Hardware skills such as electronics engineering have long been in high demand by the big electronics firms, which offer good salaries, job security, and prestige. This has lured top students into such fields, and the flow of top students into such companies has reinforced their competitive edge.

On the other hand, Japan has a serious shortage of computer professionals. While the number of software professionals as a share of total population in Japan is comparable to the United States, there is a much lower level of university-trained computer specialists. The number of graduates with bachelor's degrees in math and computer science was just 3,125 in 1990, compared to 42,369 in the United States. It is estimated that only 20% to 30% of the courses offered in Japanese computer science programs are comparable to courses in the U.S. standard ACM curriculum. 47 The situation is worse in advanced degrees. Japan has never produced more than 88 doctoral degrees in math and computer science in a single year, while the United States produced 2,024 in 1993 alone. 48 Japan has also sent far fewer students to the United States for graduate degrees in science and engineering than have other Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Taiwan.

Most of the small number of computer science graduates ends up working for major hardware vendors or large software firms, leaving the rest of the industry to get by with university graduates from other majors and graduates of vocational schools, two-year colleges, technical schools, and high schools. User organizations likewise have a limited pool of professionals to draw upon. Most computer skills are developed through on-the-job training, and few companies provide workers with systematic outside training in computer skills.

The lack of job mobility between Japanese companies often makes it difficult for companies to get experienced workers and limits the dissemination of skills throughout the industry. Also, the job status and compensation offered by the larger companies can not be matched by small companies, making it difficult for more dynamic small companies to get the skills they need to succeed. Strict limits on immigration into Japan shut off a supply of skilled foreign workers that has been very important to the U.S. industry.

The shortage and poor deployment of human resources is an obstacle to Japan's ability to compete in computer systems, develop an independent software industry, and effectively apply computers throughout the economy. Not only does Japan need more computer professionals, it also needs to increase the computer literacy of its entire workforce, from top management to the shop floor.


Summary

The combination of industry structure, domestic market, and national capabilities (especially human resources) explains why Japanese companies thrived as producers of high-volume hardware and became competitive in the mainframe business, yet struggled in PCs and software. The closely integrated keiretsu industry structure provided ready capital, reliable supply chains, and

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