Ronald Lauder’s employment center in the Negev

Five years ago, the president of the World Jewish Congress established a professional placement center for thousands of young women and young people in Beersheba, which found work for 1,700 people.

RONALD LAUDER, president of the World Jewish Congress.  (photo credit: WORLD JEWISH CONGRESS)
RONALD LAUDER, president of the World Jewish Congress.
Ever since David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, announced his goal to make the Negev bloom, many have endorsed his vision, but few have actually attempted to turn his vision into reality. One of them is Ronald Lauder, businessman, philanthropist, and president of the World Zionist Congress and chairman of the board emeritus of Jewish National Fund-USA.
Thirty years ago, Lauder fell in love with the Negev, and since then has worked to promote the area’s economic and social development. In 2015, he established the Lauder Center for the Advancement of Employment in the Negev in the Old City of Beersheba, which promotes employment and is the central address for young people and families who have chosen to set up their homes in the country’s South. JNF-USA and Ben-Gurion University are the partners operating the center.
To date, the center has found employment for 1,700 young workers, and has provided professional employment counseling to 3,100 others.
“Ron Lauder carries the vision of Ben-Gurion, the ideal that the future of the state of Israel lies in the Negev. He believes that to realize this vision it is necessary to encourage young people who have skills in hi-tech and other progressive occupations to move there,” said Lauder Center chairman Avi Balshinkov.
Avi Balishnikov, chairman, Lauder center for Employment (Dani Machlis)
“This is why Lauder created the Lauder Employment Center in Beersheba five years ago. The center aims to offer thousands of young men and women employment thanks to its relations with Ben-Gurion University and JNF-USA,” he noted.
As the center has good relations with some of the best employers in the region, it has been able to secure work for 1,700 young people and offer professional advice in job hunting to 3,100.
“The success of the Negev center lead us to the decision to set up a similar one in the Galilee. The future center will serve Jewish, Arab and Druze youngsters, assuring their future in the region will be secure and they will benefit it [thanks to their skills] as the Negev had been strengthened [by the center in the Negev],” Balshinkov added.
“Loyal to the vision expressed by Ben-Gurion and to the actions taken by the various administrations to improve the Negev and the Galilee, we push on. I am proud to be a partner to realize this vision as a representative of Mr. Lauder in Israel and as the head of the Lauder Employment Center. I am glad to say, in Mr. Lauder’s name, that he is currently placing the final touches to his Beersheba residence, which will be attached to the employment center.”
Moreover, “the vision behind the establishment of the center is to keep in Beersheba as many graduates of academic institutions as possible, among the thousands who graduate each year,” says Tamar Gil, vice president of the Lauder Center for Employment and deputy director of Eretz-Ir, a nonprofit that promotes urban communities in the Negev and Galilee, and operates the center on behalf of JNF-USA.
Tamar Gil, VP of the Lauder Employment Center (Liron Moldovan)
“One of the first things that we did, when we started out in 2015, was assess the local employment situation, in order to understand the needs of employers in the Negev who have been bemoaning the lack of available workers for years,” she reports. “At the same time, we investigated why many young people who completed their studies in academic institutions in Beersheba were looking for employment in the center of the country.”
Surprisingly, they found that there are 35 organizations that promote employment in the Negev, and each of them works with a different population.
“The problem was that these bodies did not work together,” Gil explains. “We decided to set up an employment organization forum, in which we brought all those organizations to sit around one table. At the first meeting, employment issues were raised that were resolved, thanks to cooperation between the various bodies.”
There was one major problem: employers prefer to hire experienced workers over those who have just received their academic degree. The “human capital” in the Negev is comprised mostly of young graduates of academic institutions who do not have work experience yet.
“Employers will not hire young people, because they have no experience, but they cannot gain experience, because no one wants to hire them,” Gil explains. “That’s how the Negev has lost many young people who moved to the center of the country, where they got their first job opportunity.”
In order to encourage employers to hire young people, an internship program for engineers was established.
2019 Employment Fair in the Negev (Dani Machlis)
“As part of the program, we subsidize the salary of an intern part-time during the summer months,” Gil explains. “Employers commit to providing a mentor for the intern in order to help him or her become part of the workforce. The interns gain practical experience in the field so that potential employers can be suitably impressed with their abilities. Happily, the results have been amazing. Ninety percent of those who participated in the internship program have been offered full-time employment in the places where they performed their internships.”
One of the graduates of the internship program is Nora Adamov, 27, who is currently completing her studies in electrical engineering at the Technological College in Beersheba.
“During my internship with RoboTiCan, I worked for four months while I was studying,” she says. “I gained practical knowledge and experience in my field, and it was important that I find work in the field in which I had studied. After I completed my internship, the company offered me a job.”
“As a company based in the Negev, our policy is to support the region in terms of both employment opportunities and social involvement,” says Hagai Balshai, CEO of RoboTiCan Ltd., a company specializing in security and defense and R&D robotic platforms, and which employs dozens of workers. “We are involved in employee apprenticeship and mentoring programs to help employment in the area. The Lauder Center has helped create a win-win situation, both for young people seeking employment and for our company, which is looking for workers.”
The internship program is conducted in collaboration with academic institutions in the Negev.
“The goal is to create a bridge between the theory that is taught in academic institutions and the practical knowledge required to integrate into the working world,” says Pnina Avital, employment partnerships manager at the Lauder Center. “The program helps young people integrate into the working world in the best way possible. Employers who are seeking experienced workers know that these young people have gained practical experience that allows them to integrate immediately into the work environment. The worker receives practical training, learns what is required to do in the field, and at the same time integrates into the company’s corporate culture.”
Morphisec, Inc., which protects businesses from cyberattacks, also participates in the internship program. The company’s development center, located in Beersheba’s hi-tech park, has accepted several interns, who have joined the company’s 65 employees.
“When we find a trainee who has the qualities we look for in an employee, we bring him into the company,” says Tali Amar, the company’s human resources manager. “We benefit by adding an employee who has already gained hands-on experience, knows the people working in the organization and understands how we work.”
Over the years, employers in the Negev have learned that the Lauder Center is a source of potential employees.
“We receive inquiries from employers who are looking for workers, and we send these requests through multiple platforms,” says Avital. “We opened a number of WhatsApp groups, with each group focusing on specific areas. Many employers send their job listings directly there.”
The Lauder Center for Employment. (Liron Moldovan)
The Lauder Center provides employers with a room where they can interview potential job applicants. This summer, a weeklong major employment fair will be held, in which employers from various fields will meet and conduct job interviews with students. Later, groups of students will visit large companies in the South.
“Our relationship with employers and the fact that we understand their needs help make the right connections with young people who are looking for work,” adds Avital.
In addition, the Lauder Center established a forum that connects dozens of human resource managers from various organizations in the Negev, which meets quarterly for an event that includes lectures and workshops.
“We assess their needs, outline solutions and provide tools to help make Negev companies attract more people,” says Avital.
“The sessions produce networking and collaborations. As managers of human resources departments, the opportunity to meet colleagues from different disciplines and share information with them is important for us,” says Amar.
An important aspect of promoting employment in the Negev is Ben-Gurion University, where some 20,000 students are enrolled. The Career Development Center was established in collaboration with the Lauder Center, with the goal of helping the university’s graduates not only find a job after completing their degree, but also remain in the Negev.
“It is important for the university to connect the world of academia to the job market,” says Meital Tzur, director of the center. “The connection with the Lauder Center was natural, to help students integrate into the workforce in the area within existing job opportunities.”
The center assists students to find employment in the subjects that they are studying.
“We have a wide variety of tools designed to direct them from an employment perspective to the work that best suits them, according to the needs of employers,” Tzur adds. “We interact with all of the top employers in the Negev, and we offer personal counseling for students in which we assist them in writing resumes, preparing for job interviews, preparing for assessment centers and anything else that can advance their chances to integrate into the workplace.”
Throughout the year, the Lauder Center conducts career workshops that include group dynamics, preparing presentations, how to stand before an audience, LinkedIn workshops that help people find work digitally, unique programs for students with disabilities, and programs for students from the Arab community.
Employers understand that recruiting students and alumni of Ben-Gurion University has an additional advantage, which is the critical thinking and investigative methods that the students learn through their studies. These are two very important tools for the industry and economy, and employers benefit from professionals who have multiple skills.
Academic collaboration is not limited to the university. Gil says that, over the years, the Lauder Center has become a go-between for graduates of colleges and employers in the Negev, to encourage employers to relax their employment criteria and accept students who have studied in institutions other than Ben-Gurion University.
“We want college graduates to get a chance to prove themselves,” she says. “That’s why we get in touch with employers who restrict employment eligibility to university graduates and examine if this criterion reflects the actual requirement for a specific position, or if the employer could instead look at the abilities of a college graduate.
“Employers need to become better acquainted with the colleges, create joint courses and consider that colleges can produce high-quality personnel. Many college graduates are young people born in the Negev and want to stay after graduation. Employers know that these employees will remain and won’t leave within a year or two, as happens frequently in the center of the country, where young workers switch jobs frequently.”
In order to assist graduates of colleges, the Lauder Center not only appeals to employers, but also contacts the academic institutions so that they can tailor their curricula to the changing needs of the marketplace.
“We can turn to a particular college and say to them, ‘Your program is excellent, but without a particular course in your engineering degree, Teva will not hire your chemical engineers.’ Based on our inquiry, the college can make the change, which will help its students find work,” Gil says.
Students, employers, universities and colleges – what about local government?
The Lauder Center also maintains a close relationship with local governmental authorities. The Beersheba Municipality is a partner in the internship program and has had interns working there. The municipality operates joint programs and maintains regular working relationships with the center.
Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich attends major events that take place there and is in constant contact with Lauder Center leaders and their partners at JNF-USA.
Danilovich says, “I see great importance in the activity of the Lauder Center in the Old City of Beersheba, which combines both the development and renewal of the Old City and the promotion of employment in the city. I thank Mr. Lauder and his dedicated team in the country for their great contribution to the development of the city.”
As part of the cooperation between the Lauder Center and the Section for the Promotion of Women’s Status and Gender Equality in the municipality, workshops and courses for women have been held in the Lauder Center over the past six months. Women have been invited to participate in workshops on business budget management, family budget management, family-career balance, leadership courses and to become members of the Women’s Digital Business Forum.
The Lauder Center operates two NETGEV technological hubs in the Negev towns of Dimona and Hura in conjunction with the East Negev Cluster and the municipalities of Dimona and Hura. With the assistance of JNF-USA and the Innovation Authority, two computer programming boot camps will be held in Dimona, the first of which will open after Passover.
“People will be attending the boot camp for eight months, five days a week, in order to learn a new profession,” Gil says. “We are providing training for a profession that is in demand, as in Israel today there is a shortage of 15,000 programmers.”
“We are closing a gap between the professions in which the state trains workers and the professions in which people want to work,” says Keren Goz Levin, director of employment in Eretz-Ir. “Today, quality employment does not have to depend on arriving at an office, and employees in more and more professions can provide service from anywhere.”
When the Lauder Center becomes aware of specific manpower shortages facing companies, they conduct training for specific employment niches.
Goz Levin says: “We also train people who have no academic background, through partnerships with agencies that specialize in vocational training. There are professions that until recently were offered only to those with academic backgrounds, and our involvement has created an opportunity for additional sectors of the population to find quality, high-end jobs and provide a solution to the same employer.”
The repercussions of this past year’s prolonged election campaign were felt at the center. “In the past year, state vocational training has been greatly reduced, or ended altogether, and we are trying to raise funds to conduct training,” says Goz Levin. “There are a few employers who have started training employees at their own expense, especially in companies where there is a large shortage of manpower.”
THE HI-TECH park in Beersheba, where dozens of Israeli and international companies are located, attracts local workers as well as those from the center of the country, who spend hours traveling rather than move to the South. One of the barriers that keep them from moving is finding employment in the area for their spouses.
“We can make the relocation of a new employee who moves to the Negev easier both for him and his family,” says Gil. “We can find suitable employment for the spouses of those employees who receive job offers in Beersheba, including spouses of those who will be serving here as part of the IDF’s move south. In addition to finding jobs, we also want to show them the educational possibilities for their children, tour the area with them, help them decide on the right neighborhood, and show them everything that Beersheba has to offer.”
Beersheva mayor Rubik Danilowitz (Flash90)
Residents of Negev communities from Beersheba’s satellite communities, such as Omer, Meitar and Lehavim, drive daily to work in the center of the country.
“Together with the human resources managers at the hi-tech park in Beersheba, we meet with the heads of local authorities in those communities and present the many employment opportunities,” says Gil. “They can provide a solution for those companies that are seeking employees.”
“Opportunities for remote employment are developing here,” adds Gil. “Even if the employer is in the Center, we can provide a solution for employees living in the Negev. The hope is that more employers will move their operations to the South or open more branches here, not only because of state incentives, but also because they believe in the human capital that we can train and recruit for them beforehand.”
The Lauder Center plans on expanding its work to Israel’s north, says Gil.
“After assessing the employment situation in the North in 2019, we have decided to establish an additional employment center in the Galilee this year, thanks to Ron Lauder and JNF-USA.
“Israel’s North has unique characteristics, and we are making the appropriate modifications in our work plan. Since there is no large city like Beersheba, and the topography is different from the Negev, we will eventually establish several employment centers in the area that will provide a suitable solution for the entire population.
“We are in the midst of preparations in order to make connections with academic institutions, local authorities and employers from various fields. The goal is to understand the needs of the diverse populations living in the North and bring solutions accordingly.”
The Lauder Center’s efforts in finding employment may ultimately change the demographic nature of the State of Israel.
“We want to encourage demographic growth in the Negev and the Galilee, because without them the State of Israel cannot exist,” says Eric Michaelson, JNF’s chief Israel officer. “When I speak of demographic growth, I am speaking of an additional half a million residents in the Negev and another 400,000 in the Galilee.”
Eric Michaelson - JNF- USA Chief Israel Officer (Courtesy)
Approximately 75% of Israel’s population lives in the Center.
“In order to bring about such a broad demographic change in the Negev and the Galilee, it is necessary to invest in a number of areas simultaneously,” says Michaelson. “We must strive for a high quality of life in the Negev and the Galilee, both to ensure that people there will not leave and to attract new immigrants and those living in the Center to the Negev and the Galilee.”
According to Michaelson, quality employment will keep the high-quality population in the Negev and bring residents from the central region.
“We invest a great deal in employment, along with education, health, housing and infrastructure,” he says. “We’ve combined forces with the relevant parties and created a variety of activities that connect employers in the Negev with the many students in the area who are looking for work. One of the goals is to create awareness, in order that people will know that there is quality employment available in the Negev, and that employers will know that there is a young and high-quality workforce.”
One of the ways to accomplish this is the establishment of the first innovation district in Israel, near Soroka-University Medical Center, Ben-Gurion University and the hi-tech park in Beersheba, where JNF is establishing a $300 million international campus for education and technology.
“The campus is intended for people from all around the world who want to engage with Zionism and Israel, as well as interns who will come to Israel for a year or two,” says Michaelson.