Interac Japan

My hits on this company have been trending up lately, so let me say a thing or two about English teaching as an ALT in Japan. (ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher.)

First off, I have taught English (with a textbook!), but never as an ALT. I don’t think I fit the profile of “ALT” because of my age; and even though that would be discriminatory in America, it doesn’t sound like it is in Japan. Maybe I should say it this way: Japan isn’t very stringent about enforcing its laws against discrimination, and so you’d never hear from the Japanese themselves if there was any within the ALT arena.

For people looking for an overview, this is what I can say:

1) This is a job that is primarily marketed as your chance to “go over and see Japan”; but to do so with a certain dedication. What this means is that the company doesn’t just want to buy you the ticket, and then you screw around. As a practical matter though, you are filling a role that has probably been filled by 20 or 30 people who have come before you. I think you know this, if you do your internet research. So there you are, fresh in the role. But it means that the clock is already ticking on you.

2) Last year, someone had put out there that, due to a corporate reorganization, Interac “must have been having” some financial troubles. From my view, though, it is a solid business model. Interac is basically a headhunter of people like you, who want to “go over and see Japan”. As long as Interac can charge more for your services than you take home as pay, they will make money. People who follow the industry generally believe that Interac is getting $5,000 a head. Additionally, Interac runs other language-education business in Japan, relying on the same overhead as the Dispatch ALT business. This additional business provides cash flow.

Last September’s reorganization was a buyout of a shareholder. That meant someone else had to be there with money or some other thing-of-value. Unless that person were a total sucker (highly unlikely), it means they were shown a business model that worked.

3) I think it’s the rare occasion that someone goes from Interac hire to direct hire by a school board in Japan. If you think of signing on, so that you can flip the gig to a real, you know, “position”, know that the odds are highly against you.

4) You might get shakai hoken (pension and health care) with Interac, but it probably will mean that your departure clock will start ticking a little faster. I know of only a handful—out of hundreds and hundreds—of Interac employees who were covered for social insurances. As an American, this is an issue I am keen on, because Japan seems to be taking from us under the U.S.-Japan Social Security Totalization Agreement, but not giving back. There is little that Interac, as a business, can do about that. Social insurances add 24% to their labor costs. Interac gets your spot for you by bidding against other Dispatch ALT companies. As long as the Japanese set up a system where it’s bid-ask for your labor, the companies that cheat are the companies that will win.

As an aside: I have previously remarked that if Interac were smart, they would urge some sort of certification program in the ALT industry. A company that competes to place ALTs must certify that they’ve enrolled them and anyone else eligible in the correct social insurance. (For small companies under five employees, assure that the worker him/herself has enrolled and continues to pay into the social insurances.) In this way, you shut out the small-fry companies who underbid you by $1,000 and get the contracts. This assures they have the same labor cost structure, and means their overhead must also carry that social insurance.

I see this as the way to go, since inevitably the little trick with the social insurances is going to become an issue in the U.S. government, if it isn’t already. For another post!

5) You can make friends with the handful of union advocates, but don’t expect them to do anything for you. Everything about your employment says “chance to go and see Japan”. This is how Interac presents it; this is how your client the school system in Japan will view it. If you try to make that job into anything other than your guest spot on a long-running game show, you won’t have any support. As the internet ages, you can see the stories pile up of people who thought they could parlay their teaching in the Japanese school systems into something more than, well, a guest spot. All these people are back home. You may think you were cheated, but, remember: “chance to go and see Japan”.

The only reason that they are more receptive this season is because the triple disasters scared them into thinking that they would not have that steady flow of young gaijins to stick in Dispatch ALT roles.

When you consider the number of less-than-glamorous jobs you could find yourself in stateside, it probably is worth the role of the dice to “go and see Japan”. Just, make sure you go with open eyes.

[Update: I’m not leaving you with the impression that you absolutely can’t go from Dispatch ALT teaching to regular (sei sha’in) employment as a teacher, am I? I’m sure it is possible. It’s just that it is not as possible as what you might be thinking.

And if you ever do that, try to get it in writing. It helps.]

[Update #2: I will let the company do its own talking, per these slides, which I think come from a credible source.