At roundtable event, government officials and researchers say time to move dialogue from quantity of Haredim in the workforce to the quality of their jobs.
The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) tonight hosted a roundtable discussion, "From Entering the Workforce to Making the Workforce Easier to Enter," at which it presented its Master Plan for Ultra-Orthodox Employment.
"The difference between the way we went about our masterplan and other work that had been done until now was that we did not just look at next week or next year, but the long-term," explained Gilad Malach, head of IDI's research program on the ultra-Orthodox community during his opening remarks.
Malach revealed a roadmap for Haredi integration from 2015 through 2025, including targets for increasing participation in the labor force, weekly hours worked, occupational diversity, and wages earned:
- By 2025, the desired employment rate for ultra-Orthodox Jews is 67% for men and 78% for women. (This would be an increase from 45% of ultra-Orthodox men and 71% of ultra-Orthodox women in the workforce in 2014.)
- Weekly hours work would increase to 44 hours of work per week for men and 34 for women. (In 2013, ultra-Orthodox men worked an average of 41 hours a week, while women worked an average of 29 hours a week.)
- By 2025, 23% of ultra-Orthodox women and 33% of ultra-Orthodox men would be employed in industry and commercial services. (This would represent an increase from 13% and 23% for men and women respectively in 2011.)
- The average hourly wage of ultra-Orthodox employees should be brought in line with the average hourly wage of all employees. (In 2014, the average hourly wage for ultra-Orthodox women was 90% of the wage of the general population, while the average wage for ultra-Orthodox men was only 83% of the wage of the general population.)
Malach said that the Masterplan shifts the focus from the quantity of Haredim employed to the quality of jobs in which they work, bridging the gap between the average Haredi salary and that of the general population. The end result will be taking one of Israel's poorest sectors out of poverty.
Eli Groner, director general of the Prime Minister's Office, said he supported the findings of the Masterplan, noting that IDI's research and goals are serving as the basis for the government's current work in that arena. However, he said that as society moves forward with helping Haredim find their place in the workforce there is a mantra that bears repeating: The goal has to be that Haredim enter the workforce and stay Haredim.
"If we try to change them or we show them that we are doing this because we are trying to help ourselves, then it won't be successful," said Groner. "We have to show them – and believe – that this is good for the Haredim."
Michal Tzuk, director of employment regulation and senior deputy director of the Ministry of Finance, said there are enumerable challenges in integrating Haredim to the workforce and that while there has been progress, there are still hurdles to jump. She said that one of the biggest challenges is gaps in education – particularly that Haredim don't know English. However, she noted there is work being done to bridge those gaps.
Likewise she said there is a shortage of engineers in the high-tech sector and there is an interest in training those from the poorest and least represented areas of society for these roles. This would include Haredim, Arabs and women. She also noted there is a thrust to recruit businesses from abroad to help in these efforts.
Doron Cohen, former director general of the Ministry of Finance, said that when he worked in the Ministry of Finance there was a feeling from some politicians that their goal was not to get Haredim into the workforce to help the Haredim, but so these officials could tell their secular friends that they got the Haredim to work at all. That has changed. Nonetheless, he said, there is still more that could be done to encourage secular employers to celebrate what Haredim bring to the workforce and still a need to convince employers to hire Haredim.
"There are still those that won't take an employee if he has black pants, sidelocks, etc.," said Cohen. "We need a job market that is willing to hire Haredim."
Former IDI researcher Dr. Haim Zicherman talked about the internal challenges Haredim face when considering going to work. For starters, he explained, they are giving up a dream – a dream that belonged to them, their parents, their wives – of being the talmidei chachamim and Torah greats of their generation. Next, they are starting from the ABCs. They don't necessarily even know basic math. And once they complete the prerequisites for work, they have to get hired and then they have to manage working in the outside world, which is so different from where they come.
Like Cohen, Zicherman said employers need to be taught "the language of the Haredim." For example, if a Haredi person is trained from a young age not to look a superior in the eye – then that is something an employer should know rather than judge him negatively. Likewise, Haredim tend to be very modest.
"If he says, 'I am not so bad at it,' he means, 'I am really good," Zicherman says. "We need to give business owners the tools to employ Haredim."
Prof. Avi Simhon, at his first public appearance as the new senior economic advisor to the Prime Minister, noted that Haredim are not being trained for the types of jobs that could lead to careers and that this is something that should be examined.
The publication of the Masterplan for Haredi Employment was made possible by the generous support of The Rusell Berrie Foundation.