This article originally appeared in Hebrew in Maariv, a leading Israeli newspaper.
The recent decrease in the percentage of Haredi employment demands a new strategy. Creating a new reality wherein Haredim choose to study towards degrees in computers and engineering instead of education and law may just do the trick.
Today, the academic school year will open following disconcerting data recently published by the Chief Economist of the Ministry of Finance, which estimates that from the end of 2015 to the second quarter of 2017, there was a decrease in the rate of employment of Haredi men. This follows years of a steady increase in their integration into academia and the workforce, and after a significant overall shift in the Haredi community in 2015, such that for the first time the percentage of men working surpassed the percentage of full time Yeshiva students. Whereas the explanation provided by the Ministry of Finance relied on changes in incentives provided to Haredim, it seems reasonable to suggest that the problem lies in the fact that government policies and programs for Haredi integration into academia have not evolved over the years. After many years wherein the emphasis was placed on setting quantitative targets for the integration of Haredim into academia, the realization that a change is necessary should have been understood, and the emphasis should have shifted to integration into quality professions. It is reasonable to suggest that a policy wherein Haredim were continually encouraged to seek professions with inadequate demand and relatively low salaries slowed the integration process.
In order to prevent this decrease from becoming a trend that will cause Israeli society in general, and the Haredi sector in particular, to regress, it is important that the country formulate a strategy that will focus on quality job placement and thus better utilize the potential of the Haredi community. Integrating Haredim into professions with high demand and high salary potential such as engineering, hi-tech and computers, will ensure that Haredi families can leave poverty behind. This shift will provide the incentive for the Haredi community to integrate, regardless of the political battles surrounding governmental financial incentives.
From my years of experience with the Haredi sector, I have observed their vast potential. I am convinced that their high work ethic and creativity will fuel the success of such an initiative. This new strategy must concentrate on two essential aspects. Firstly, we must encourage Haredim to select the right field of study. We must change the reality in which the majority of Haredim choose to study education and/or law. These fields are flooded and the demand and earning potential are low. It is true that they are the more convenient courses of study for Haredim in that they require less work to overcome cultural and academic gaps, however, experience has shown that choosing these “easy” pathways is shortsighted. The second aspect is placement following graduation. Studies show that in both their initial acceptance into the workplace and afterwards, there is discrimination against Haredim when compared to non-religious applicants due to preconceived notions and stereotypes. The frequently heard argument that the variation in salary between Haredim and secular employees stems from differences in the level of training and professionalism, is completely unfounded. Our hundreds of Haredi graduates who integrate within the world of engineering and hi-tech in leading Israeli and multi-national companies are clear evidence of that. The forecasts regarding the growth of the Haredi community and its increasing influence on the Israeli market leave no room for doubt regarding the importance of integrating them into academia and the workforce. We must treat the data published by the Ministry of Finance as a wakeup call.
The author is the president of the Jerusalem College of Technology, in which over 1,500 Haredi students study computer science, hi-tech and engineering.