More Arabs join the work force - and not just in blue collar jobs

Tsofen encourages the establishment and development of hi-tech centers in major Arab cities and communities. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tsofen encourages the establishment and development of hi-tech centers in major Arab cities and communities.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In February, 2011, then-president Shimon Peres called together the presidents and CEOs of a dozen leading hi-tech companies to form a coalition with the purpose of integrating Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) workers into the labor force.
Peres took it upon himself as a personal mission to integrate both communities with a view toward alleviating poverty, advancing Israel’s economy and giving members of peripheral societies an opportunity to enter Israel’s mainstream.
President Reuven Rivlin, cognizant that Arab and haredi birthrates were much higher than those of secular Israelis, looked toward the future and saw that within the next decade these communities would together represent 50% of Israel’s population. It was therefore imperative that they be integrated rather than isolated.
There would be nothing to prevent them from maintaining their life styles and traditions, but as far as work was concerned, they had to move into the 21st century.
There was no paucity of Arabs with the proper qualifications for hi-tech jobs, but companies run by Jews were reluctant to put them on the payroll.
The main challenge was to stop looking at Arabs as blue-collar workers and accept that many of those who had proper academic training were also highly talented and could make significant contributions to a company’s profitability.
At Rivlin’s initiative, Collective Impact – a collaborative venture between government, business, non-profit organizations, philanthropists and communities – was formed close to three years ago and is now showing definite results.
Jews and Arabs representing all of the above congregated at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Monday to give Rivlin a progress report, which the representative of a particular major company described as “a game-changer.”
Yifat Ovadia who heads Collective Impact praised all the companies involved with the project for having the courage to commit themselves to its success. It was not an easy decision to take, she acknowledged.
As part of a pilot program, Ovadia said, 528 new Arab workers were absorbed into the workforces of six companies during the period under review. Of those, 167 were given managerial positions in areas such as economic strategy, human resources counseling and in specific areas of insurance.
In the first half of 2017, 194 Arabs found jobs in six of the companies engaged in the pilot project and 54 of them are working in managerial positions.
Companies involved in the pilot project said Ovadia set certain targets for the ratio of Arabs in their employ and all had surpassed those targets – some by a small percentage, others by double-digit percentages.
Eran Birenfeld of Deloitte Israel said when his company joined Collective Impact, Arabs represented just 1% of the company’s employees; now that amount is just under 5%. Initially, the Arab employees came from the north of the country, but now the majority come from the center. Deloitte is so pleased with its Arab staff, said Birenfeld, that in two weeks it will open a branch in Nazareth, not only to provide employment for suitable members of the local population, but also to provide services for Arab entrepreneurs who want to open their own businesses.
Tnuva CEO Eyal Malis said that of the company’s 6,000 employees, approximately 1,000 are Arabs, and many of them are working in white-collar professions.
“They’re very good technologists and engineers,” he said.
Amir Levy, head of the budgetary division at the Ministry of Finance spoke of formulating strategies for integrating Arabs and haredim into hi-tech. Looking at the macroeconomics, he said, the project was seen more as opportunity than challenge and there was confidence it would boost the economy, just as programs aimed at the integration of Russian immigrants had done.
Among the challenges mentioned by employers is that many well-qualified Arabs do not apply for jobs because they feel sure they will be turned down. Many Arabs are unaware that doors which were once closed to them are now open, especially to recent graduates of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
Company managers are also aware that while Arab employees are talented and efficient at what they do, they often lack certain business skills.
To overcome this, companies have established means of teaching not only their Arab employees but all their employees how to engage in a business conversation and how to close a deal.
Rivlin was pleased to see that things were moving ahead as hoped. The president admitted that at the beginning, though he exuded enthusiasm, he was concerned the whole enterprise might fail.
He was delighted it has not.
One of the CEOs present admitted he had also been skeptical at the start, but is now “1000% convinced” that the project is worthwhile.