‘Next year will determine success of haredim in work force'

Manager of Manpower Bereshit speaks of need for more businesses to hire qualified, haredi employees and the ensuing challenges.

Haredim 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This upcoming year will make or break the growing phenomenon of haredim joining the labor force, depending on whether those leading the trend find suitable jobs, a leading force in haredi placement said on Thursday.
Speaking at a conference on “integrating the haredi sector – a national objective” taking place at the Jerusalem College of Technology, Chaim Guggenheim – manager of Manpower Bereshit, a subsidiary of the international placement company that specializes in the haredi market – spoke of the need for more businesses to hire qualified, haredi employees and the ensuing challenges.
“In Israel, only some 50 companies have hired a significant number of haredim – at least 30,” he said.
But in a country like Israel, where half of the population is composed of sectors like Arabs, olim from different origins, haredim and more, “if a company doesn’t sell a product to a certain sector, it is losing much potential buying force. And a company that doesn’t hire haredim today will in another ten years find itself without any workers.”
Guggenheim stressed the need to create the appropriate working environment for haredim workers, but noted that the same principal applies to other groups of employees, such as students and young people.
“If in the upcoming year we will not reach significant placement of haredim, there will be a serious boomerang effect, since haredim will say, ‘We tried our best, but employers did not want us,’” he warned.
Guggenheim later expanded on why the upcoming year is such a crucial time, explaining that it has been a few years since the major influx in the numbers of haredim who began studies or vocational training that would enable them to pursue more prestigious careers. Now is when they are entering the labor market, and it is critical – for them and other haredim considering a career – that they find suitable jobs.
The government and the Joint Distribution Committee, as well as many privately funded organizations, have been taking great efforts to ease haredim into the work force whether by affording training and education, or even government incentives to firms that hire haredim.
Private companies have also realized the potential of the stable, trainable work force, and began creating working environments suitable to the haredi lifestyle.
While many of the conference’s speakers addressing the issue noted the need of the employers to make the adaptation to the haredim, at least one person felt that potential employees could be doing more to join the work force.
“I get furious every time I hear haredi go-getters explain that haredim are not working because nobody will employ them. That’s a lie,” said a man who for years has been involved in haredi labor implementation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“There is great willingness on behalf of employers to absorb haredim. I referred haredim to some of the biggest companies in the economy: Bank Hapoalim, ISCAR, Electra, Teva, Bezeq. There was no problem; they were took haredim to work. There are other problems that can prevent haredim from working in certain capacities, such as insufficient training or knowledge, but I don’t think there is a problem of employers not agreeing to take haredim.”
“Some haredim are picky when it comes to taking a job – if a person from Bnei Brak gets a job offer in Netanya, I’d expect them to take it. Some won’t if a job entails traveling. This is an indulgent attitude I don’t expect from a person seeking employment,” he said.
The man was not sure why people who so desperately needed work, to the degree that they would diminish their social standings by leaving the ideal of dedicating their life to Torah study, would not take a job that was available, even if inconvenient. But it is the difficulty of that transition that could explain why some haredim might get cold feet in entering the employment cycle, the man mused.
One person determined to find a good job in his field was Ariel Willinger, a 29- year-old haredi father of two who will next year be completing his course of study in industrial management at the Jerusalem College of Technology. Willinger reiterated Guggenheim’s warning.
“If we – the first groups of graduates of engineering professions from the haredi sector – will not succeed getting jobs in the anticipated income level, it will backfire on the public, and the phenomenon of haredim entering the cycle of higher education, vocational training and employment will die off,” he said.
“What nourishes this wave is hearsay.
Before I started my studies, people looked at me as if I was crazy. Nowadays, there is rarely a day that passes without someone calling me to consult about academic studies or finding a job,” he said.