A crisis in the making?

With its already small hi-tech job market, Jerusalem has been particularly affected by the recent wave of firings.

biotech company 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
biotech company 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
In the past months, economies the world over have been affected by what is being seen as the most severe economic crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression of 1929. The Israeli economy seemed relatively immune to the effects of the global crisis during its early stages, but as the crisis has developed into a full-fledged recession in the US, Europe and Japan, Israeli companies that are export-oriented and global companies with centers in Israel are finding it impossible to continue with business as usual. In just the past several weeks, the number of hi-tech companies that have fired workers in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem's much smaller and more fragile hi-tech environment, has been growing at an alarming rate. One particularly striking loss was the closure of the Amdocs facility in Jerusalem, with the firing or relocation of about 200 workers. "Everyone's been talking about 'when will it happen,'" says Danny Cantor, who worked at Amdocs in Jerusalem. Cantor will continue working at Amdocs's Hod Hasharon facility. He says the company did make efforts to find jobs for its Jerusalem workers, whether within the company or through a job fair the company organized. "If you can find a job in the center [of the country], you've got to take it, despite the commute. There are no jobs in Jerusalem," he says. Cantor estimates that most of his colleagues fired from Amdocs will be receiving unemployment benefits, as there are almost no jobs to be found for computer programmers and engineers. "I know of one job for JAVA programmers, which is what I do, and there are 50 people applying for it. The same goes for COBOL [programming language]." And two weeks ago, NDS, a telecommunications equipment company, let go 100 of its 1,100 workers at the Har Hotzvim campus. The picture at employment agencies is similar. Paule Tzuker, CEO of the Nisha Group placement company, says that while the phenomenon is nationwide, Jerusalem is particularly affected because the job market here was already much smaller. "These days, there are many more people coming to employment agencies. And it's not just the bad workers - these days you see good workers who were not fired because of their performance but simply on account of the economy." Tzuker echoes the sentiment that many Jerusalemites have already come to, that settling for a job in the center of the country will be inevitable. She says it is too early to see a clear downturn in wages but assumes that pay scales and benefits will be declining in the coming months. "Take a deep breath and be strong," advises Tzuker. Haia Bornstein, CEO of the Dialog employment agency, says she has seen a drop of about 40 percent in the number of available positions over the past two months."Every field has something available," says Bornstein. "It's not like the dot-com crisis of 2001 that affected the hi-tech world exclusively. This time, it's a broad crisis across just about every sector." But Bornstein notes that very few companies have actually closed down. "Most companies are freezing their hiring. They are waiting to see what happens. Ultimately they will need workers to continue making money." "We always told olim it will take time," says Nefesh B'nefesh's Daniella Slasky. The organization's director of employment admits that there are fewer jobs available and that senior positions have become harder to find. But even during good times, it could take four to six months to find a hi-tech job and up to a year for a more senior position to turn up. "The slump is no bigger in Jerusalem than anywhere else," says Slasky. Jacob Richman is one person with his finger on the pulse of the hi-tech job world. He has spent nearly three decades in the computer business, including a seven-year stint with Intel, and in 1993 founded the CJI (Computer Jobs in Israel - www.cji.co.il) mailing list, which sends out lists of job offerings every two or three weeks. "The list has seen fewer jobs since the summer, and recently it's gotten worse," says Richman. "In good times we had some 40 companies listing 120-130 positions. Now the average is fewer than 10 companies, with 10-20 jobs at most." Richman, a job search veteran who works as an Internet consultant, also publishes a survey of salaries in hi-tech fields. He expects to see a significant downturn in next year's survey. "Since the economy in Israel is not big, salaries can go up fast if there is demand, and also drop fast. It's a big swing one way or the other."