Use the crisis - invest in training

Office workers / Photo: Shutterstock

If we have one million unemployed, we should at least exploit the opportunity to upgrade our labor pool and raise productivity.

Entire industries have been damaged, the public at large is in distress, many workers have not gone back to work, and it's unclear whether certain sectors ever will come back. This situation makes the vocational training system a key player in the recovery from the economic crisis, and offers the possibility of directing the workforce towards new market needs. This concept has been demonstrated clearly in recent European economic models; they now constitute an important component of a system that would restart our damaged labor market.

Opening doors to the working world

The last decade has witnessed a tremendous shift in a labor market that is changing before our eyes. Technology has taken a central role, with in-person activity becoming online, and extensive automation. A notable change is the integration of remote workers situated far from their markets, into key sectors such as high-tech, and into advanced positions with good economic prospects. These populations include single mothers, Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and persons with disabilities. The device that has proven instrumental in integrating these groups into the workforce is vocational training. In addition to acquiring professional know-how, they have been introduced and acclimated to the new labor market.

I believe this success with disadvantaged populations can be replicated with today’s many job seekers. From self-employed people whose businesses did not survive, through the young generation just beginning to enter the labor market, to the furloughed workers on unpaid leave who don’t know when or if they will ever return to their place of work. I believe that through vocational training, we can rescue Israel’s employment situation. It will make it possible to reduce the gaps between supply and demand in the economy, profoundly affect a person’s ability to transform his or her life, and sometimes even enable people to exit the cycle of poverty.

Because there is no immediate way to absorb the hundreds of thousands of job seekers, the coming time period would be best utilized as a momentary downtime for market reorganization to better match jobs opportunities with job seeker training.

The online market is developing and flourishing, as are some high-tech industries. By training workers, these flourishing and developing areas will redouble their profits: seeding the economy with helping hands and saving people from prolonged unemployment.

The formula for success in vocational training has several parameters: instruction in the most current and in-demand professions, cooperation with leading employers, professional guidance, and the sense of empowerment experienced by the group and the mentors accompanying it.

Of course, none of this good can happen without significant government assistance. Ironically, this is happening just at a time when most unemployed people are on unpaid leave, sitting at home. It would be worth taking advantage of this situation to revitalize the labor market, and reorganize it to suit those occupations in high demand.

And today we’re exactly opposite of where we should be.

The unemployment rate is rising and currently stands at 21%, compared with 3.9% in February. In March, the Ministry of Finance announced a NIS 200 million allocation for professional training of unemployed people. This announcement sounded very promising, but in practice not a single shekel was spent. Less than 20% of all training budgets were used this year, and a training project in cooperation with employers was also frozen because of budget considerations.

We have not yet lost hope

Even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, which has turned the labor market upside down, demand for professionals still exists. Although this is a challenging year for job-seeking, I’m hopeful there will be an awakening and the lesson will be learned that through professional training it is possible to reduce unemployment significantly, and save many people from long months of despair.

If we already have one million unemployed, at least take advantage of the golden opportunity for a national project to upgrade our labor pool, and raise productivity and wages.

Instead of giving someone a fish, teach them how to fish!

The author is the CEO itworks, a non-profit organization that works to narrow employment gaps and promote diversity in Israel's high-tech industry.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on August 5, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Office workers / Photo: Shutterstock
Office workers / Photo: Shutterstock
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