For A4e, putting people to work is business, not charity

The Sheffield, England-based company is now in its third year of running a pilot program in Jerusalem called Amin.

A4e (photo credit: Courtesy )
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Putting a chronically unemployed person to work is usually seen as a good deed, or, from the government's perspective, a necessary social service. But for A4e (originally named Action for Employment) CEO Bob Martin, it is a profitable business. The Sheffield, England-based company is now in its third year of running a pilot program in Jerusalem called Amin, in which the company helps people find work and receives payment from the state for successful job placements. On a recent visit to Israel, Martin took time to speak to The Jerusalem Post about his company's business strategy. Amin was A4e's first venture outside of the UK, where it had been contracting employment and other social services for the state since 1991. The company's astonishing success in Jerusalem, which includes a 60 percent employment rate against a government goal of 35%, has led it to expand to other countries, including France, Germany and South Africa, and even has the company looking toward expansion to India. "Z." is an east Jerusalem mother of two who was unemployed for four years. Speaking at an Amin conference, she grew teary as she related how the Amin representatives lent a "listening ear" to her complaints, and provided both moral support and practical solutions such as training and child care so that she could find work. A4e can succeed where government officials give up, Martin said, because of its flexibility in finding caring professionals to work with clients and its ability to provide creative solutions. Martin described how A4e provides such necessities as an apartment or dental work, with the philosophy that such expenditures are critical to finding a job. Surprisingly, those costs amount to relatively little, and are not charity but a viable part of the company's business plan, he said. The Israeli government began the Amin project, and three others around the country, in a two-year pilot program in 2005. Last year, under Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, the pilot was renewed under new terms, including the stipulation that the contractors' payment would be dependant not on simply reducing government welfare rolls but on finding stable employment for the clients. Martin said that is a welcome change, and one that allows his company to shine with its focus on good-paying, stable jobs. Amin has put an effort into identifying appropriate employers, and has refused to work with a number of firms that hire seasonal workers or pay less than minimum wage. But for those employers who do "make the cut," a partnership with Amin can be very valuable. Bilha Ilser, director of nursing services at the Neveh Horim Nursing Home-Beit Avot Meuhedet in Jerusalem's San Simon neighborhood, said recruiting workers for geriatric work has been a major challenge during her 30 years in the business. Working with Amin has given her an address to turn to whenever she needs a worker, she said, and the preparation Amin provides for the workers gives them a sense of commitment and responsibility that is invaluable for her as an employer. A4e always works in partnership with a local company (in Jerusalem, the Aman consulting firm) and involves local stakeholders, including government and charity organizations, to ensure that its services are provided in a way that is culturally appropriate. As Martin acknowledges, ideas that work well in Sheffield might not be successful in locations as disparate as South Africa's KwaZulu region or rural France. That is certainly a challenge in a city as diverse as Jerusalem, where the clientele includes Jews and Arabs, Ethiopian immigrants and long-time residents of impoverished neighborhoods. But some feel the best thing about A4e is their importing an ethos that is diametrically opposed to the Israeli approach. One client said she benefited from computer instruction and dental work provided by Amin, but that its greatest assistance was in bringing her to a different mind-set. "We were raised with the mentality of 'magia li' [I deserve it], which was a disaster," she said. "Amin's counselors taught us that if you want something, you need to work for it."