Doing a good job getting people good jobs

ITWorks founder and CEO Ifat Baron of Netanya on her mission to find employment success for marginalized communities.

ItWorks (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Eiad Shalabne, 32, has an impressive CV – including a business degree from Ben-Gurion University, seven years in financial services and a master’s in business administration from the University of Colorado. However, the Arab-Israeli resident of Rehovot did not find a job right away when he returned to Israel six months ago.
Only recently did he start working in Hewlett Packard’s strategic marketing department, thanks to ITWorks, a nonprofit that matches open hi-tech positions with qualified candidates from economically, socially and geographically disadvantaged populations throughout Israel.
Shalabne believes his employment difficulty stemmed from a lack of connections rather than discrimination.
“I really don’t think someone in human resources would see an Arab name and toss the résumé into the trash. They look at your experience and objective skills,” he says.
“The problem is getting your résumé into the right hands. I meet a lot of Arabs looking for jobs and most of them share a similar problem: not that someone is rejecting them, but they don’t have access to begin with. Companies post job descriptions on their websites, but if you send your résumé that way you’ll get lost in the masses. You need connections, and ITWorks got me a few job interviews. Once you get to the interview it’s all you.”
ITWorks founder and CEO Ifat Baron of Netanya says she was ecstatic to hear that Shalabne signed with HP in a position that fits his skills and experience. “I feel that I have another star in the sky,” she says. “These success stories really help me get out of bed every morning.”
IFAT BARON, founder and CEO of ITWorks.
Baron founded ITWorks in 2006, after a career on the social responsibility team at Cisco. “I saw a huge demand for entry-level positions with and without an academic degree, and I saw a market failure. Every year, 7,000 open positions in hi-tech market go unfilled,” says the mother of three.
“I started ITWorks to bridge between people far from the center or from different ethnic groups that don’t have the skills to find quality jobs in hi-tech even though there is so much demand.”
ITWorks runs several programs to train and place job candidates from marginalized communities, such as periphery residents, the ultra-Orthodox, people with physical, intellectual and sensory disabilities, Beduin, Druse, Circassians, Ethiopians, senior citizens, women and new immigrants.
In the past decade, about 2,500 people have sought help from ITWorks, which boasts a job placement rate of more than 70 percent. The success rate is close to 100% in its ExcelHT training program, helping targeted minority groups to meet the technological requirements in highest demand throughout Israel.
“We work with hundreds of employers – big companies like Amdocs, Intel, NICE and Check Point – as well as smaller companies and start-ups,” says Baron.
“In some companies we place one person a year, in some, 10 people a year.”
LIMOR KADRON, vice president of human resources of Hola.
Limor Kadron, vice president for human resources at Netanya-based Hola, a fast-growing VPN (virtual private network) for worldwide video distribution, contacted ITWorks in November after seeing a newspaper article about how long it takes many minorities to find jobs.
“Immediately we called them and started working with them, and we have already interviewed at least 10 people from ITWorks for jobs in many different areas of our company. Sometimes you can find very talented people in the most surprising places, but you don’t know where to look for them. You just need to open your eyes and your mind and try it.”
Kadron stresses that Hola does not care about candidates’ ethnicity, age or gender. “We don’t look at CVs. Many people who work here don’t have a degree but they are excellent. We are looking for stars, for the most talented people from any sector. So we like to work with places like ITWorks that give us access to people we would have trouble finding otherwise.”
Baron discovered that start-ups in particular tend to value diversity in their staff. “That means taking people not only from the center and not only from the army, but also Arabs and haredi job-seekers with academic degrees who are not in these ‘clubs.’ The Israeli economy loses millions of dollars per year when Arabs and the ultra-Orthodox are not integrated into the workforce. Soon, half of all first-graders will be Arab or ultra-Orthodox and they need to know they can earn a living when they grow up.”
Abdallah Sbih, 24, is a Beduin newly employed as an SAP manager at Diplomat Distributors in Lod, a major food importer. Sbih was the first person from his Galilee village to earn a college degree, and graduated in the top 5% of his class at Sapir College, where he studied business and industrial engineering.
“I was sure it would be easy to find employment and I sent out a few résumés, but no one ever called me for an interview,” he says. “I couldn’t even get an entry-level job below my skill level.”
From his senior year in 2013 until the fall of 2015, Sbih worked odd jobs and felt increasingly discouraged and desperate.
Finally, while working in a Cofix shop, he heard about an ITWorks presentation at Tel Aviv University about employment for Arabs.
He went to the lecture and told ITWorks Vice President Si Avivi his story.
“She invited me to her office and spent almost a full day helping to prepare me for job interviews,” says Sbih. He also had a pivotal conversation with Baron, who encouraged him not to give up.
WEAAM DAKSA, a Druse Israeli engineer, got a job at Novetide in Haifa after finishing ExcelHT at ITWorks.
“I felt as though I had been in the dark and ITWorks gave me back the light. Suddenly I had hope that I could find a job,” says Sbih. “They can give professional tools and self-confidence to anyone who lacks hope and confidence in finding a good job.”
One week later he got his first interview and was called back for another.
After a three-week process, Diplomat offered him a job that fit his skills and interests. “I am very satisfied with the work, and ITWorks really helped me assimilate into the work environment,” says Sbih. “As a Beduin, this is the first time in my life that I feel part of Israeli society, like I can look forward to a successful future.”
Operating on an annual budget of NIS 5 million, ITWorks is supported by the Economy Ministry, the National Insurance Institute, the Joint Distribution Committee and funders all over the world who feel strongly about the issue of employment in Israel, says Baron.
ITWorks also works with local partners in some 20 municipalities such as Petah Tikva, Sderot, Beersheba, Yeroham, Lod, Netanya, Yokne’am, Haifa, Jerusalem and Arab villages to identify qualified hi-tech candidates from underemployed populations.
“We have many Arab women who are the first in their villages to be engineers,” says Baron. “This is a national issue for women, whether they’re Arab or from the periphery. If she earns a degree and doesn’t get a job, her family says, ‘Go be a teacher.’ Every woman who comes to us, from Yirka or Kiryat Gat, we do our best to help her find good-quality employment in her field.”
Baron has won accolades, including a prize from the Hadassah Foundation for promoting economic justice and equality for women and girls in Israel, the International Alliance for Women’s World of Difference 100 Award, and a 2013 Ford Motor Company International Fellowship in New York. ITWorks was named the 2012 Israel Venture Network’s Social Entrepreneur Fellowship Program in the area of economic development.
“I feel that this is my calling,” says Baron. “We need to do our best so everyone in Israel has fair chance to work.” ■
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