Solving Unemployment Issues

Four Wittenberg students traveled to Nagoya, Japan, to use their problem-solving skills to help its society in June.

Menna Abaye, Zachary Cole, Carolyn Westmoreland, and Katie Harman represented Wittenberg, along with students from the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Japan. There were 33 students total involved, and they were divided into six work groups.

Each year, the students are given just over a week to solve a problem. This year, the focus was on Nagoya’s unemployment issues. Because of the lack of jobs, the issues are also affecting the city regarding tourism.

In Nagoya, there are over 6.2 million “NEETs” and “freeters.” “NEETs” are individuals who are “Not in Employment, Education, or Training,” and some who, in general, don’t want to work. “Freeters” are people who can’t get a full time job – often because they are young – and are working one or more part-time job(s). “Freeters” often get discouraged at how few opportunities there, and they give up looking for work.

The groups came up with a wide-range of ideas to create jobs, from a theme park (“Katanaland”) to a flea market, and programming (called “Student Voice”) to bridge communication between Japanese teachers and students, the last of which was intended to decrease the school dropout rates.

But the winner was the “Social Hope Enterprise,” a plan to take foreclosed houses, remodel, and train unemployed people into job opportunities so they can buy their own homes. Abaye was in this group, and she was honored to have had this experience.

“I learned how to work with people from different backgrounds, nationalities, and beliefs,” Abaye said. “Although it was a challenge to get along and understand each other sometimes, fighting through that challenge and working together for the same goal was a great experience that I don’t always get the chance to have.”

The program is set up primarily to be a competition, but if the business plans are applicable, the ideas can go to actually help the community. As of right now, it has not been determined if any of the models addressed this year will go to help Nagoya.

The judges were comprised of professors and an actor, who is part of a group of “samurai” characters that created new jobs in acting to help combat unemployment. The judges based their decisions on how sustainable the business model would be if put to the test.

Throughout the week, the students updated their professors regularly, giving formal presentations. They also visited Kyoto, stopped at Nagoya’s city hall, and listened to company presentations (among several other activities) to get a better knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture.

The Wittenberg students were given the chance to go on the trip if they had taken the course on “social entrepreneurship” taught by Sunny Jeong, professor of business. The students also had to go through a selection and interview process.

Terumi Imai, professor of Japanese, also went with the students and, after seeing the positive results of this summer’s trip, is looking forward to next summer’s trip.

“Overall,” Imai said, “it was an excellent experience for the students in communication, working skills, and business plans. They solved most of the problems in the end.”

The professor also encourages students to look into the Japanese Department. According to Imai, in Ohio, stable job prospects through Japanese companies are the second highest in the United States, and they tend not to lay off workers in economic hardship. She said it helps to understand a culture and can lead to a plethora of opportunities for students involved.

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