Jennifer Cantwell, HR Manager, Borderlink, Inc.
Q: When was Borderlink started?
A: The company was founded in 2000, and is now part of Will Group, Inc., one of the largest employee dispatch consortiums in Japan. Borderlink is one of more than a dozen dispatching units under the Will Group umbrella.
Q: So primarily, Borderlink contracts out teaching personnel for fixed periods of time to companies and institutions, yes?
A: Borderlink primarily specializes in English teaching services for public schools, mostly as Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) in elementary and junior high schools.
Q: How many teachers are on the staff?
A: Currently we employ about 300 teachers, with most based in the Kanto area, including Tokyo, Saitama, Tochigi, Ibaragi, Gunma, Chiba, Kanagawa, as well as some in Kansai and Shiga Prefecture. We are expanding into other areas.
Q: Where is the majority of demand coming from?
A: The public school area is experiencing the strongest demand.
Q: What kinds of qualifications is Borderlink looking for in applicants?
A: Nowadays, schools are hoping to get teachers with teaching experience and teaching qualifications, such as TESOL, etc., as well as some Japanese language skills. It’s not that we refuse to hire people with no training and no experience. We do that as well, but, during the interview process, we try to gauge their aptitude and flexibility within the Japanese system and culture, etc.
Q: Does Borderlink hire non-native English speakers?
A: Not often, but it does happen. If an applicant has a resume of a strong history of English education, can qualify for an instructor’s visa and pass an interview, then it’s certainly possible. Sometimes we find that a non-native English speaker can better understand the needs of young second language learners because they used to be one themselves.
Q: How about non-English foreign language teachers? Is there demand for them as well?
A: There isn’t a huge need in the public schools for non-English education per se. However, the number of foreigners in Japan has grown dramatically over the years, and so there are some schools actually want their ALT to be able to speak Spanish or Tagalog, or Portuguese, etc. so we need to look at those skill sets when placing teachers with schools that have a lot of Brazilian or Spanish-language speaking South American immigrants.
Q: What else are you looking for in teacher applicants?
A: Personality-wise, we need to see if they are a good fit for the “T2” role. T2 is the secondary teaching role in the classroom, supporting the Japanese teacher. In elementary schools, there tends to be a push for ALTs to be “T1” – the teacher who actually leads and controls the class. But this is not a role that necessary translates into a fit for the T2 role, which is more passive.
Q: What kinds of teachers are suitable for the youngest students?
A: For kindergarten through 6th grade, we look for people who have a lot of energy and are very pro-active and willing to speak and communicate with the Japanese as much as possible, and serve as a role model. We provide a ton of material to help with make this easier.
They should also have a desire to interact with the students as much as possible, including during mealtimes and after school during club activities, etc. It all helps to contribute to a sense of community and acceptance, which is an important aspect of the job. Those kinds of extracurricular activities are not required per se, but are advantageous.
Q: How about education and credentials?
A: There is no emphasis on any single major of study, but having a Bachelors’ Degree or the equivalent is necessary in order to get a visa. It’s always good to have a TESOL or TEFL certificate and any teaching qualifications from your home country. Passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is also a plus.
Q: What level of JLPT skill is acceptable?
A: An intermediate JLPT skill level for elementary and junior high schools is good. For new hires with low Japanese skills, we have an aggressive Japanese language training program to help.
Q: Is hiring done overseas or in Japan?
A: We have contacts overseas through the Japanese language departments at many universities, and have attended job fairs as well. We also hire in Japan, of course. But searching online for a job seems to be the most prevalent way that people conduct a job search these days.
Q: Where did you personally start in Japan?
A: I began in Shiga Prefecture 12 years ago as a junior high school teacher with the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Program, and eventually moved to the Kanto area. I was hired by Borderlink six years ago.
Q: Is there a pre-departure regime for people hired overseas?
A: Yes, we provide Japanese language support and sessions over Skype.
Q: How about after they arrive in Japan?
A: When they arrive in Japan in mid-March, they spend a day in Omiya for paperwork. There are also opportunities to meet with veteran Borderlink teachers to gain knowledge, talk about school culture and practice planning lessons, etc. There is a large online library that they can access. A week-long intensive training session follows, and they are then prepared to move into their living accommodations.
Q: What kinds of support exist for teachers?
A: Japanese tend to be shy, which can be problematic for some people. There is a three-level support system, which features a Japanese language Coordinator, a Human Resource Manager, as well as a Borderlink facilitator to help with any problems that may crop up. We pride ourselves on our support system. Our office hours are from 8am to 8pm.
Q: How much flexibility is there with living arrangements?
A: We work with a realtor who arranges apartments for new hires. But if an ALT has other ideas or demands for where or with whom they wish to live, we can work with those as well. We look for people with experience and qualifications; you don’t get that unless people have existing ties and relationships already here, which means you probably already have ideas about where and how you want to live.
Q: Do applicants have any control over where they are placed?
A: In the application process, there are options, depending on where the contract schools are located.
Q: Are there unwritten responsibilities that come with living in a local community?
A: Of course, and this can’t really be overstated. ALTs are highly visible in the communities where they live, and have to be careful about maintaining a proper image in public, because you never know who is watching.
Q: How does the average teacher stay with Borderlink?
A: Contracts are for one year denominations. The average stay is two to three years. The return rate is 70% to 80% per year.
Q: Besides teaching, are there other areas of involvement for career-minded applicants?
A: At Borderlink, it’s primarily about teaching. There is the possibility of advancing into Human Resources or Curriculum Development in the future though.
Q: How do Borderlink applicants break down by gender and nationality?
A: We don’t discriminate, but there tend to be more males, and over half of the employees come from the United States. Others are from Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand.
Q: Are there preferences for accent from host school to host school?
A: Requests sometimes emerge, and we do our best to accommodate them all, but this does not affect the hiring process. We know that there can be quite a bit of variation in accent among English speakers.