A Immediate Solution for Haredi Employment | Opinion by Meir Hirshman

The coalition agreements opened the painful wound that is the issue of core studies in the Haredi schools and Yeshivas. This is a complicated and tender problem, because any change in the format of Haredi education involves touching the most sensitive spot of the fundamental Haredi ethos.

We can continue to flounder in the muck of the battles, slander each other, feed the media and let the politicians on both sides make political profit. On the other hand, we can also try to think outside the box and propose a move that, although it does not solve the problems from the root, will at least provide an immediate, even if not perfect, answer to some of the basic problems.

About 400,000 Haredi men and women are of working age (25-64). The employment rate among Haredi women stands at 79%, similar to the rate of women in the non-Haredi population (81%). The big problem is among Haredi men, whose employment rate is only 52%. Even the men who do work usually hold low-paid jobs – which is the result of the lack of quality professional education. A Haredi man earns, on average, half the salary of a non-Haredi Jewish man (8,800 NIS compared to 17,000 NIS). Bottom line, about 65% of the Haredi workforce participates in the labor market. More than 250 thousand Haredi go to work every morning. Beside them, 100 thousand men do not work and invest all their time in Torah study.

The lion’s share of Haredi society is already in the labor market. The big problem is productivity and low wages, and, as mentioned, these are the result of a lack of appropriate education.

Instead of continuing to grumble and complain about an unproductive sector, it’s time to produce adapted solutions for said sector, which will dramatically improve the professional abilities of the Haredi who are already in the labor market – or who will enter it in a short time.

Unlike a secular man whose preparation process for his professional career actually begins in elementary school, continues through high school and reaches the academy, the Haredi man’s professional career usually begins at the beginning of the third decade of his life – and after his marriage.

Therefore, in order to optimally integrate the Haredi man into the labor market, a strategic plan must be implemented that will include professional, high-quality and supervised training courses adapted to the Haredi lifestyle and the later age at which the professional career of Haredi men begins. Instead of the Haredi man taking the first job that comes his way, which in many cases is dead-end job with a low salary, he will have the opportunity to find a professional path that suits him and integrate into the employment market in an optimal way.

It was only recently that the high grades achieved by the Haredi seminar graduates in the accounting course were published, despite the fact that they studied in a unique and adapted course without an academic degree. And in the field of high-tech, in collaboration with senior industry officials, a non-academic program was built for girls of Haredi seminars -which was an extraordinary success. Its graduates are integrated into senior positions in the industry and earn a salary similar to their counterparts.

Following a study we conducted at the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, in collaboration with Aharon Institute, the MeGo program was created, operated through the Kemach Foundation, in which Haredi youth without prior background are trained for high-tech jobs. These are clear examples of how in various professions training can be adapted to the Haredi sector, without an academic degree and without harm the professional quality.

True, these solutions are not perfect, and indeed it might have been better for the professional training to begin at a younger age and on the accepted academic path, but as of now this is the best we can do, as we will not be able to reach more profound agreements anytime soon.

So, what is more important to us – to win an idealistic debate, or to reach a solution that will advance us as a society? I suggest choosing the second path.

Meir Hirshman is a Haredi research fellow in the Haredi Institute for Public Affairs, chief editor and comptroller of a major Torah literature project in Machon Yerushalayim and a guest commentator on Haredi radio stations on political and social issues. 

The Article was first published in Hebrew on Yisrael Hayom (Israel Today)

For Employment data in the Wohl Data Centre click here.