Should this situation persist, in the coming decade we shall also see a decline in the overall rate of employment, as result of the natural growth rate within the haredi sector. We should of course not ignore the difficult economic situation of this sector, which does not support itself, lives under conditions of poverty, and creates a burden for the State.
Hence, and before the haredim become an even greater burden for Israeli society, the time has come to face up to the challenge and adopt a series of steps that would enable the haredim to participate in the Israeli job market.
What does this mean in practice? First, it requires decision-makers and the business sector to leave behind all sorts of bias and prejudice. As opposed to the arguments we regularly hear around here, many haredim want to and are able to work and contribute their talents, experience, and skills. The reason many of them fail to do so is the absence of a suitable work environment.
Hence, the next step is to create work environments that would constitute a softer, welcoming element to the ultra-Orthodox community – for example, a kosher kitchen, (certain) separation between men and women, maintaining a certain dress code at work, and shuttles from haredi strongholds to work (or the establishment of service centers of various companies close to haredi areas.) It would also be worthwhile to designate certain quotas for haredim at Israeli companies, as a sort of “affirmative action.”
Government intervention needed
It is also very important to understand the haredi culture, which has implications both on professional training which haredi employees are asked to undergo as well as the daily conduct at work. For example, the need for rabbinical approval and for a supportive community framework, without which haredim have great trouble operating.
On the part of the government, we need aggressive intervention in the form of extra funds for professional training, incentives for employers, and the integration of haredim into higher education institutions. Without higher education, haredi employees will have trouble integrating into the modern-day job market.
Today there’s greater understanding of and openness to the job market among the haredi public. Most haredim, as opposed to seculars, do not seek to “make a career,” but rather, they want a stable work place that would grant them regular income over time. Hence, as we learned from many years of experience, the job stability of this sector is much greater than in today’s world of employment; this is an important advantage in economic terms as well.
Several large Israeli companies already grasped the potential inherent in the haredi sector and established service centers with representatives who are especially designated for this sector. This is based on a desire to find employees who will stick around for a long time doing a job that suffers from high employee turnover. It’s also based on the insight that we have a high-potential manpower here that is not being properly utilized.
The integration of haredim into the Israeli workforce is not a fantasy, and its implications touch upon many areas of our life on the one hand, and on the haredi sector’s life on the other. We are dealing with a complex process replete with changes, yet instead of fearing it we should face up to the challenge and promote this issue. The quicker we do it, the better.
Moshe Weizmann is the CEO of a manpower agency
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