The corona pandemic hit our economy like a storm. Businesses went into crisis mode, workers were laid off, jobs were eliminated. No wonder young people are worried and taking to the streets. Many of them are the same young people who just graduated from college and are now supposed to be starting their careers. When even experienced employees were laid off or put on unpaid leave, what are the chances of a young person without professional experience getting a job?
Instead of the government applying a financial band-aid in the form of monetary grants, as it has done and will likely do again around the holidays, it would be preferable to invest in employment programs so that hundreds of thousands of unemployed people can start the year on the right foot with some economic security. Now is the time to prevent a catastrophe stemming from the most significant employment crisis in the country’s history and save an entire generation of young people who could suffer the consequences of this crisis for years to come.
Without overstating the case, the data shows that if the state does not take action, the generation just entering the workforce may never properly integrate into the world of employment. The more time that an employee spends outside the labor market, the greater the danger that her temporary unemployment will become chronic and affect her employment path over the years. The younger generation is divided into two groups: college graduates who will not be able to find work in their field and will have to compromise with part-time, temporary jobs that do not match their professional training, and workers without an academic background, for whom the state’s failure to integrate them into the labor market will profoundly affect their social and economic mobility. At this rate, this generation will have to work more in order to make do with less and live at a lower standard of living than they were promised when they went to study a profession or learn a trade.
To prevent a long-term employment and economic crisis for the younger generation, the government must find creative solutions and invest in entry-level workers in a comprehensive and holistic way. It should focus on all areas of employment, with inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation, just as it has been investing in recent years in promoting employment among populations that have a traditionally low employment rate. It is time for all government ministries that address issues concerning young adults to coordinate budgets and programs, pool resources available for vocational training tailored to the Corona era and steer the employment market to remote work.
Civil society young adult and employment organizations have already taken on this challenge with the encouragement of philanthropic foundations, led by the Gandyr Foundation, the B’Yachad Foundation, the Steinhardt Foundation, the Rothschild Foundation, and the JDC, and have established a national forum of nearly 40 organizations to address the crisis. The forum is developing practical solutions and is prepared to offer them as models to the government. The government would do well to embrace such initiatives and form the kinds of public-private partnerships that have proved successful both in Israel and abroad.
It is time to return the dignity of work to Israeli manufacturing, which is in dire need of working hands, and make its jobs desirable. One thing the Corona crisis has made clear is that supply chains for vital goods must become more local, to ensure the flow of goods in this and other, as-yet-unforeseen crises. But the problematic image of manufacturing as unattractive to young workers deters them from joining this industry. This stems, among other things, from stagnant wages over the course of many years as well as the lack of advancement opportunities. The government should create programs broadly targeted to populations that are not considered “marginalized” (i.e. the Ultra-Orthodox or Arab Israeli sectors), as there are already an abundance of such programs. Instead, it should encourage manufacturing industries to provide opportunities for professional development for their employees and encourage companies to hire young residents of the Negev and Galilee despite their lack of experience, through subsidies and “on the job training” programs.
An example of such a model is the Lauder Employment Center’s Engineering Fellowship, in which recently graduated technical engineers receive a two-month internship in a Negev company. The stipend is subsidized by the Lauder Center and Jewish National Fund USA, thus not requiring that Negev employers take a financial risk in absorbing an inexperienced employee. In the past three years, 90% of the interns received full-time job offers at the end of their Fellowships.
Such programs do not entail providing direct financial grants by the government to young jobseekers. Instead, national resources should be directed systemically to the planning and establishment of a variety of employment solutions for young people.
Those who are currently at the bottom of the employment ladder are the young graduates who have difficulty finding work and are always among the first to be let go. These young people are the next leaders, employers, and future managers that will propel the Israeli economy far into the future. Many of us in the non-profit sector are imbued with a sense of mission to produce out-of-the-box solutions and assist the government. Decision-makers in Jerusalem should pay attention to all we have learned, and to successes that can show the way to a better future for our youngest workers.
Tamar Gil Menachem is Deputy Director of Eretz-Ir, operating the Lauder Employment Center on behalf of Jewish National Fund-USA.