Industry: A tool to build our nation

Israel may be a country but it isn’t yet a nation. Introducing a dual education system that combines apprenticeships with vocational schooling can assist in abolishing divisiveness and forming a cohesive and secure society.

classe (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
I was only 6 years old when the Ukraine-born, American-reared journalist Gershon Agron started the newspaper that you are now reading. The year was 1932, and the paper bore the name The Palestine Post.  In 1950 it became known by its current name, The Jerusalem Post. This column is the first of a series of semi-monthly articles that I have been invited to write for this enduring newspaper. And in doing so, I am proud to contribute to Agron’s aim of advancing the Jewish state.
While many may disagree, it is my belief that Israel is a country but not yet a nation. For me, a nation denotes a people who work towards a common vision for its future. For our still-young country, this task has been exceedingly complex. Numerous challenges hinder the formation of a collective vision, not least of all the population's eclectic mix of recent immigrants and long-established Jews, Muslims, and Christians (of both religious and secular persuasions.)
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The hard-won victory of statehood in 1948 has somewhat been tainted by massive emigration. Trained for jobs that either do not exist or there aren't enough of, a large percentage of Israelis leave in search of jobs elsewhere. Both Jews and Arabs deeply cherish family ties, but today many families find themselves talking with loved ones over Skype instead of over the kitchen table. This diminishes the social fabric of our country. Training our youth for jobs that will keep them here should be a priority.
I was fortunate to find work that has kept my interest over the decades, namely, the making of precision cutting tools used for building the vehicles that transport us and other machinery. Every society needs them.  But a nation also needs tools of a less tangible nature that are critical in creating a civil society. One example is the right type of education.
Our educational system - and in particularly, our technical education - has sadly declined. For too long we have been a nation obsessed with professional degrees in the hope that our children will become professors or lawyers or doctors. Yet our small state can absorb only so many in these professions. When we award too many degrees with no jobs to support them, we are essentially developing an export market for our most valuable commodity: our talented youth. Furthermore in order to successfully function, every country needs more than trained professionals; it needs people who take a real pride in their work, regardless of their field.
Both Jewish and Arab Israelis now have an opportunity to put the tragedies of the past aside and create their own destiny. Education is a method that enables us to reverse centuries of discrimination and persecution. Thus my vision, and one that I hope others will come to share, pertains to an educational reform.  We need to double the number of highly skilled people who have either theoretical or hands-on knowledge. It is through education that the country will meld its various sectors into a cohesive and productive workforce.  Another side-effect means that the society will be more secure, since when people work together they begin to see their commonalities rather than their differences. Education is the tool to give Israel’s citizens a sense of pride in the products they make. There is no reason that a “Made in Israel” label cannot convey the same message of supreme quality and design that a “Made in Switzerland” tag does.
So what kind of education is needed? Ideally, it should fulfill the following criteria: 1) Preparing individuals to fill the positions needed to advance Israel’s future. 2) Consisting of both skilled-based and theoretical training. 3) Instilling the pride that comes hand in hand with producing something of the highest quality. 4) Promoting virtues that create a harmonious workplace and society by combining critical thinking with ethical behavior such as respect for others.
Education in this country should also seek to correct the erroneous notion common to both Jewish and Arab parents, namely that manual labor is “low.” Nations with the most dynamic economies such as China, India, Singapore, Switzerland, Denmark, and France, have introduced the dual system of technical education that combines classroom learning with on-site internships in any particular industry. In my boyhood region of Baden-Wuerttemberg - the most financially successful part of Germany - 65% of students study under the dual system with many of them going on to study in universities.
When Israel was founded a functioning technical-education system was established, but after a few decades it vanished almost entirely. Revitalizing this critical aspect of education, perhaps by introducing our own version of the dual system, is essential if we are to become a nation in the true sense of the word.
The writer is the founder and honorary chairman of ISCAR, Ltd. For the past 50 years he has been involved in establishing technical education programs and is chairman of the Zur Lavon organization for technical education.