Aeon to setup SC-based nurseries in 46 prefectures

Sep 15

Aeon is planning to open childcare facilities in each of its 140 SCs across the country, with a target of at least one in each prefecture by 2018. A key aim is to provide extended hour services for its own employees in a bid to help expand the number of female managers, but it will also go some way to reduce the chronic shortage of childcare facilities in Japan.

Aeon will set up childcare facilities in all of its large malls across the country. Beginning in Spring 2015, the retailer will begin rollout of childcare nurseries serving both the local community and its own employees with plans to eventually offer the service in each of its 140 or so malls. IKEA, which opened a daycare facility in its Funabashi store in 2006, set a clear example that Aeon is now eager to follow.

Japan remains woefully undersupplied with childcare options for working families, despite recent government deregulation of childcare. The rapid increase in the number of women staying in the workforce full-time means there is plentiful demand. As of April there was an official shortfall of 22,700 nursery places across the country – an underestimate because of the many mothers who assume their work doesn’t warrant a place and so never actually apply. The current government has a target to reduce this shortfall to zero by 2017, although most observers see this as optimistic.

Aeon and other private companies are looking to take advantage of this obvious demand by developing their own businesses, as well as providing services for their own staff. In addition, the usual hours for nurseries don’t necessarily fit with retail (or other) shifts, opening 7am to 7pm and rarely at weekends or on holidays. Aeon’s first nursery will operate 365 days a year and stay open until 10pm.

Given that many Aeon malls are also near to densely populated residential areas, the service is likely to be popular. Each centre will employ both full and part-time staff, with 5-10 employees in each location, and fees will be set to match those charged by local authorities. By the end of 2016, it plans to have 15 in operation, mostly in SCs in high traffic commuter areas such as the three prefectures surrounding Tokyo and those around Osaka. The target is to have at least one in every prefecture by 2018.

Aeon employs around 68,000 people in Japan, 36% of them women, but only 10% of management positions are held by women. Aeon has a target of 50% female managers by 2020, again following a lead set by IKEA, which achieved this target this year. Despite the positive announcement, Aeon also injected a word of caution, noting that local regulations still make opening nurseries in some prefectures difficult, and there is also a shortage of qualified staff to work in them.