On Feb. 9, the Cabinet approved the basic organization of the Japan Digital Agency with the prime minister at the helm. Its success as the government’s command center for digitalization depends on engineers and other human resources recruited from the private sector, who would comprise more than 20% of the agency’s workforce.
It is unclear if the government will be able to assemble a highly skilled workforce, however, considering the low level of compensation offered to engineers at the new agency compared with what their counterparts receive from the U.S. government.
The maximum annual salary the agency will offer private sector recruits will likely be 15,000,000 yen or so, which is higher than the annual compensation received by regular government employees but lower than that paid for an equivalent job outside Japan.
In the U.S., the United States Digital Service (USDS) within the Executive Office of the President advises government agencies on digital issues, and its engineers receive 100,000 dollars to 170,000 dollars annually. Engineers working in the private IT sector receive even higher salaries.
With a sense of urgency, the Japanese government will start filling about 30 positions as part-time jobs in April, before the formal launch, which is set for Sept. 1. The agency will be flexible in accommodating workers’ needs with telework arrangements and allow them to earn supplementary income.
In an unprecedented move by the government, specialized recruiters for the digital agency with existing personal connections in the private sector will be asked to help.
“Many people are interested in contributing to Japan’s digitalization,” said Takuya Hirai, Minister in charge of Digital Transformation. The government reportedly received 1,432 applications for the 30 positions advertised for the advance recruitment.
According to the FY2020 Annual Report on Japan’s Economy and Public Finance (Economic and Fiscal White Paper), only 0.5% of Japan’s IT specialists work in the public sector. That hardly compares with Singapore, where 7% of the government workforce, 2,600 people, are IT specialists.
For the new digital agency to attract human resources in the digital field, work experience in the government should be a plus for the workers’ overall career advancement. In the U.S., government experience in such advanced IT fields as intelligence and military technology is highly valued in the private sector. “It is important to facilitate such an environment in Japan, where work experience in the government and local municipalities will help workers in their future career,” says Atsuko Nomura, chief researcher at the Japan Research Institute.
The agency’s mid-to-long-term goals and strategies for data utilization are yet to be determined. For the time being, its core role is standardizing the digital systems of different government agencies and central and local governments. (Abridged)