UK welfare-to-work firm mulls project with Palestinians

A4E executive chairman tells Post his vocational training firm "has the opportunity to do some good work over here."

mark lovell 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mark lovell 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A4E, the largest supplier of welfare programs in the UK and the multinational company responsible for running the Lights to Employment initiative in Jerusalem, is considering expanding its Middle East employment services to include the Palestinians, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Visiting the region this week as part of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's delegation, A4E executive chairman Mark Lovell told the Post his firm, which provides vocational training and other services for the chronically unemployed, "has the opportunity to do some good work over here" and increase the chances of peace via economic development. On Sunday, Lovell visited Bethlehem with Brown, who talked at length about Britain's goal to improve the Palestinian economy and create a foundation for economic and business cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians. In an interview with the Post following that visit, Lovell said The Portland Trust - a private, nonprofit British foundation committed to promoting peace and stability between Palestinians and Israelis through economic development - was already mulling building 30,000 housing units within Palestinian Authority territory, a move that would generate an estimated 50,000 jobs. Finding and training the manpower for this project could be exactly where A4E fits in, he said. "We know there is a problem with high unemployment [in the PA territories] and this could create many jobs in the private sector," said Lovell, whose A4E company has been working with Israeli employment firm Amen for the past three years to help Jerusalem's unemployed find work. A4E and Amen - known collectively as Amin - currently work with 550 participants each month providing professional training, language classes and computer skills. In the last three years, Amin has succeeded in placing close to 5,000 people for permanent employment. "We are being cautious about how to approach this [work with the Palestinians]," Lovell said, acknowledging the ongoing regional conflict. "But we do believe that such a project would help reduce political and cultural divisions in Israel. We see it as a challenge and an opportunity to really do some good work over here." "One of our main goals is to ensure that social policies keep moving hand in hand with economic developments," he said, "and we do this by ensuring that the most vulnerable people are given a chance to improve their situation, too." Amin started its work in August 2005 as part of the government's Mehalev program (also known then as "the Wisconsin Plan"). While the initial pilot drew severe criticism for not being flexible enough, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai made some key changes to the program exactly a year ago, including renaming it Lights to Employment, creating personal tracks for each participant and allowing those over 45 to opt out. Lovell said the company had already learned a lot from its experiences in Israel over the past three years and had even taken some of the protocols from here - such as the personal tracks - and incorporated them into their operations in other countries. A4E, which was started in the UK 16 years ago, currently runs similar programs in Germany, France, Poland, South Africa, India, Turkey and Australia.