Employment centers: An offer they can't refuse
by Jonathan Rosenblum
March 3, 2005
A moving letter appeared recently in one of the Israeli chareidi newspapers. The author described herself as a mother of seven from Ashdod. She receives an income maintenance supplement, but in order to remain eligible she must report to the government Employment Service once a week and accept any job that the Employment Service offers.
Failure to appear for the weekly interview at the Employment Service results in the loss of benefits for several months. So does the refusal to take a job. In this woman's case, she was sent to work as a janitor in a factory from 7:00 a.m. in the morning to 4:00 p.m. She pointed out to her case worker that the hours were impossible for a mother with many young children to prepare for school in the morning, and that as the holder of a high school degree, she was capable of more intellectually demanding work.
Her pleas, however, were curtly rebuffed by the case worker in charge of her file. She was told that she should hire a babysitter for her kids, but in any event, she must show up for work or lose her benefits. The family's financial situation left her no choice but to go to the factory for an interview. One look convinced the sympathetic employer that she was unsuited for the work, and he marked her down as unsuitable. The Employment Service, however, refused to accept the employer's verdict, and marked her down as having refused the job.
Unfortunately, this woman's poignant story is only one of thousands like it. A recent study disseminated by the Beitar municipality found that there are more than 35,000 people in the chareidi sector are currently looking for work and unable to find it. Many have been seeking work for more than a year. Not only does the lack of a job place a huge dent in family finances, but it is often accompanied by a tragic loss of self-esteem. The income from all sources for an average family of six in Beitar is 4954 shekels while their average family expenditures are nearly twice that: 9866 shekels. That means that, at least in Beitar, the average family of six children is covering just barely half of its very minimal monthly expenses. The rest is overdrafts and gemachim.
What can be done about the high rate of unemployment among chareidi job seekers? The first step is identifiy some of the specific barriers chareidi job seekers confront. For one thing they have to overcome the cultural stereotypes that make some employers leery of hiring them. Because they are unlikely to have many friends or relatives who are employed in the mainstream market, they lack the connections upon which most first-time secular job seekers depend. Moreover, they are likely to have had very little guidance in some of the basic job seeking skills – e.g, how to present oneself in an interview, how to prepare a curriculum vitae.
Even where they have taken vocational courses to prepare themselves for the job market, there is frequently little connection between what they have learned and the skills then in demand in the job market. As a consequence, a high percentage of graduates of vocational programs still find it very difficult to land their first job.
A good deal of the Eretz Yisrael-oriented discussion at the recent convention of Agudath Israel centered on various initiatives that Orthodox businesspeople in the United States might undertake to strengthen the economic infrastructure of the chareidi community in Israel. Creating an employment center, or a number of such centers in chareidi population centers, designed to meet the unique needs and characteristics of the chareidi community is one such idea.
The Ministry of Absorption initiated a number of such centers specifically designed for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the FSU in the '90s, and they played a major role in the integration of those immigrants into the Israeli economy. It is quite possible that the Israeli government would provide some of the seed money for such centers in the chareidi community, as it did for the Russian immigrants.
And it is also possible that much of the needed work could be done through the private sector. At least one young chareidi entrepreneur has already established a partnership with a major international manpower agency, and put together a number of successful projects employing chareidi women. In each case, the company in question hired large enough groups of workers to create separate worksites for them. With sufficient capital investment, it would even be possible to create on behalf of large companies call centers in or near chareidi population centers that would employ large numbers of chareidi women.
The basic elements for a successful employment center are already well known and waiting to be implemented. First, the center must develop wide contacts with potential private sector employers. That is not as difficult as one might think. Many hi-tech companies are convinced that the chareidi sector is the great untapped source of hi-tech workers, and employers who have hired chareidi men and women with computer training have generally been very satisfied.
Second, the employment center must investigate the labor market to determine what specific skills will be in demand in the near future. That is particularly important when advising those who have already decided to eventually enter the job market, but have not yet entered any course of training.
Employment centers advise both to those who have already completed academic or vocational training programs and those who have not yet decided what specific training suits them. In either case, the process begins with an interview and testing to determine the job seeker's specific aptitudes and strengths. For those who have already completed the training process, they provide training in interviewing and preparing resumes, and pertinent information about contract negotiations and employee rights. Even after employees succeed in finding jobs, the integration process into a completely new cultural milieu is often difficult. Here a case manager who maintains ongoing contact during the initial transition period with both the chareidi worker and his or her supervisor can greatly smooth the integration process.
The creation of employment centers along such lines would appear to be a high priority for the tens of thousands of chareidim desperately searching for jobs.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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