I know a lot of you out there are interested in going to Japan to teach English. Luckily, they’ll take anyone with a beating heart, dumb apes included. But is it really worth it? I’ve always been against a lot of these programs that send people off to teach English. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are good (though I think a lot of people who apply and take these jobs take them for the wrong reasons), but there are definitely companies you should avoid like the plague.
Nova was one of them… but, Nova went out of business, fired a bunch of English teachers (who had nowhere to go), and really sucked when it came to treating their employees good. Nova was bought out by G-education, and recently I got an e-mail from an employee there, who saw both sides of the fence during the transition. I sent him a few questions, and he answered… so anyone who wants to teach English in Japan can now be a little more informed. Of course, my source has to remain confidential, otherwise he’d be fired so hard, and we don’t want that (well, maybe he secretly wishes for it).
1. So, Nova folded a little while back, what company bought out Nova and took it over?
“G Education”, a company that’s basically part of a corporate conglomerate called “G Communication”, which basically buys bankrupt companies and turns them around. They have quite a few businesses, including a lot of restaurants, a traditional Japanese-style inn, and various stores.
2. How was the transition?
Rough. Firstly, the new company promised us that anyone who wanted their job back could have it. When they say how many of us still wanted to stay and work in Japan, they told us we had a choice: “option a”, which would have us start working immediately, cleaning up the branches and packing up NOVA merchandise and supplies, sending things to the multimedia center (whose teachers were doing the same thing, as well as sorting and organizing the stuff sent to them), and generally doing menial tasks rather than teaching. Which is understandable; the company went bankrupt, there was a lot of stuff to be done, and they were willing to pay us our old wages to do so. Meanwhile, “Option B”, which we were highly encouraged to take in order to help the company, was that we would receive 150,000 yen (roughly equivalent to $1500 USD) in order to survive while we stayed home for about a month, and report to work on January 10th where it was assumed we’d resume our teaching duties.
On December 23rd, rumors started going out that they had sent emails to some instructors who chose Option B, stating that unfortunately they couldn’t actually offer employment, and that they wished us the best of luck etc, reneging on their promise of employment.
I honestly don’t really begrudge them too much on this issue; they had to do what it took to turn the company around, and I don’t think that Option B was originally intended to be a malicious trick. However, I do still begrudge them on the timing. A lot of people got them on the 23rd, and several others got them on the 24th… Merry Christmas, you’re laid off! Yokoso Japan!
Very poor timing, and this was the first sign of what would become a continuous theme remaining even today; this very Japanese company has no idea how to handle/manage foreign employees.
Some union got involved and a lot of employees were able to return to work towards the end of January regardless of their offer being withdrawn… but within a few months they were telling teachers they needed to transfer to various branches or else get laid off. Again, I personally don’t begrudge them this decision; the company was bankrupt and had quite a bit of debt, and they had too many teachers where they didn’t need us and too few where they actually had customer demand. It was a smart choice, business-wise.
However, further creating bad blood, when some of the instructors were looking for new jobs, they were told they wouldn’t be hired and shown an article from a national Japanese newspaper, where the G. Education management were saying that the instructors they let go were of poor quality and generally bad and/or unreliable teachers. This article didn’t mention anything about teachers getting laid off for declining to relocate. So those who had been laid off were now finding it difficult to get a new job, and seemingly for no reason other than maliciousness on the part of the new management.
Meanwhile, the former company was so successful at shedding its teachers, it ended up having very few by the summer of 2008… not enough to meet even the basic demand. Students were angry at the difficulty in booking lessons, teachers were upset and quitting over the general disregard management had for its instructors. They started calling up former NOVA teachers who had declined to relocate and offering them their jobs back.
3. Why do you say you “Look back fondly to the days of NOVA?”
Old NOVA, while a typically evil corporation out to squeeze every bit of profit it could from its customers and its employees, was at least reasonably efficient and under control. When management told us something, we generally could feel it was reliable (up until the spiral into bankruptcy, anyways). It knew how to manage foreign employees and had a system set up that took care of all the little details that foreign instructors would have to deal with, moving to a foreign country. The new NOVA is lacking in reliability, know-how, awareness of the differences between foreign and Japanese management style / work expectations.
4. You mentioned they were doing some illegal activity. What kinds of things are you talking about?
For starters, the new contracts that they started offering to people whose old NOVA contract had expired included a stipulation that they not be late to work or miss a day without notice. In other words, if you wake up sick, tough luck: come to work. If you didn’t, you’d lose almost a quarter of your paycheck in penalty, which is illegal according to Japan’s Labour Standards Bureau. There are limits on the percentage of your paycheck that can be reduced as a penalty of any type. Nonetheless, the Labour Standards Bureau in Japan notoriously lacks teeth, especially when it doesn’t really care about the issue. However sympathetic the staff are to our situation, there’s a definite feeling of “not a Japanese problem” since the only people affected are foreigners.
Additionally, though this is nothing new as the old NOVA did this as well: our contracts state that we have 4 minutes between lessons that is administration time, and 6 minutes break time. However, it almost always takes the full 10 minutes (as well as time before and after work, to plan lessons and finish your notes / put files away) to do your expected duties. If you don’t do your work, you’re in danger of teaching a lesson that a student has had recently and generally get bitched out by the management… yet when asked why we’re forced to do unpaid overtime, we’re told that we just need to work faster or smarter, and that it isn’t their responsibility. This has gotten worse than previously, though, as the new NOVA has switched to a 5-student lesson format. Unpaid overtime that is absolutely without a doubt a requirement of our job. An undisguised breach of contract.
5. Would you recommend anyone coming to Japan to try and get a job at G. Education?
Honestly? At this point, no. Come to Japan and try to get a job, sure. But don’t try with G. Education… too much is up in the air at this point, the company hasn’t really figured out what the hell it’s doing and is still not turning a profit as of yet. We’re all still sort of holding our breath for the second grand finale, though that is by no means for sure what’s going to happen. The bottom line is that the future is uncertain, and the management is clueless. I shudder to imagine the mixups and lack of help someone brand-new to Japan would have, all on behalf of G. Education.
Best bet is to get a contract with one of the other big eikaiwas before setting foot in Japan, unless you’ve got a significant savings and don’t mind tightening your belt and not indulging in the tourist experience until your situation gets a bit stable. You can build a decent schedule that will support a comfortable lifestyle, including partying and touristy stuff, but it takes time and multiple small companies.
6. If you could be CEO of this company, what would you change?
The entire approach to the teachers. They view us as a resource, and don’t even treat us as full employees. They fail to realize we are their only product, and that we’re not loyal Japanese wage slaves willing to put up with an incredible amount of bullshit and abuse all in the name of harmony and company spirit. This is a problem inherent in the eikaiwa industry (and somewhat for good reason; many of the employees treat the industry as a revolving door because that’s exactly what it is for many people; a chance to experience Japan for a year). If I were the CEO, I would make an effort to treat the employees well, and try to recruit only the serious employees in it for the long-haul.
7. How much longer do you think this company has to live?
It is a bit too early to say at this point. In my opinion, there will always be enough of an employee-base just from the curious foreigners who want to experience life in Japan for a year or so; they probably won’t fail for lack of “product”. However, it is already painfully obvious that the quality of the lessons / teaching has fallen drastically since before the bankruptcy. Part of it is the hiring of just about anyone as they grew desperate for instructors. However, it is also due to some of the best teachers from before the bankruptcy just not giving a damn about their job anymore.
(I’m not including myself in that group, but I do know several co-workers who took their job very seriously and strove to follow the company teaching style and lesson format while providing the best service they could to the customer… and they no longer have that motivation.)
This interview was conducted with a current employee at G-education, the company that bought out Nova when it went bankrupt. His identity is a secret, like Batman, so watch out.