Simhon reaches out to haredi community

Industry, trade and labor minister seeks to integrate more haredim into workforce.

Elad mayor Yitzhak Idan and Minister Shalom Simhon 311 (photo credit: Religious Press Line)
Elad mayor Yitzhak Idan and Minister Shalom Simhon 311
(photo credit: Religious Press Line)
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon on Tuesday toured haredi areas to investigate ways of integrating a larger percentage of the community into the labor force.
He began the day with a visit to the Building Technology College in Holon, which runs several training courses that cater to haredi youth.
He met officials who work with the haredi community, including representatives from the Joint Distribution Committee’s Tevet (fighting poverty through employment) program and Shahar, a program devoted to promoting professional training among haredi soldiers.
Simhon told the gathering it was not his place to get into a debate about the haredi way of life, saying he was concerned only with finding ways to improve the low workforce participation of specific minority groups, including haredim.
“You don’t have to agree with my way of life, and I don’t have to agree with your way of life,” he said. “So I don’t want to enter into this [the haredi] world, I want to find ways to integrate it [into the labor force].”
Simhon, a member of Independence, the breakaway Labor faction, became the industry, trade and labor minister in January. He has said increasing haredi participation in the labor force is one of his top priorities.
Simhon said there was no reason why young haredim couldn’t combine a career with their religious studies, just as secular people combine their careers with other pursuits.
He said he wanted to learn more about what influenced young haredim, males and females, to decide whether to learn a profession.
Officials at the gathering praised the establishment of government-funded professional training programs for haredi youths in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and other locations, although some suggested that such projects could be expanded.
According to statistics from the National Council for Economics in the Prime Minister’s Office, about 37 percent of haredi men participate in the workforce, compared with 67% of the total male population, while 48% of haredi women participate, compared with 57% overall. The haredi population numbers about 700,000 people, close to 10% of Israel’s population.
After the gathering, Simhon attended a graduation ceremony of haredi soldiers from an electricians’ course.
He then traveled to the mainly haredi town of Elad, where he met with municipality officials and toured local industries.