Long before the calls to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into the Israeli workforce became a battle cry, software company Matrix understood what could be done with investment and some creative thinking. Other Israeli high-tech firms had searched for high quality but cheap labor and sent work "offshore" to India and Eastern Europe. Indian high-tech workers might be cheaper, but differences in mentality and culture made globalization difficult. So Matrix looked closer to home.
"We thought we needed to train high-quality, local and loyal manpower," says Moti Gutman, the CEO of Matrix and the driving force behind training ultra-Orthodox women for high-tech jobs. At first, Matrix looked far from the center of the country, but were advised instead to look at ultra-Orthodox communities. Matrix discovered hundreds of intelligent women desperate for work in Modi'in Ilit. Young Haredim are moving away from Jerusalem and other ultra-Orthodox centers to such places as Beit Shemesh, Beitar Ilit and Modi'in Ilit, where housing is cheaper. But finding work in these new communities isn't easy.
After consulting with city leaders and rabbis, Gutman and his staff realized there was interest in providing jobs for Haredim, as long as certain basic conditions were met.
Matrix set up a pilot, which cost NIS 1.5 million, and hundreds of women applied for the first 30 places in the intensive four-month training course, which he named Talpiot. Gutman says he based the program on the Israel Defense Forces' main computer unit training program, which he attended. The army takes young people with no experience and in months turns them into excellent programmers.
Today, ultra-Orthodox women account for some 600 out of 4,300 employees. They work as developers, programmers and quality assurance testers. Matrix has expanded the program to Beit Shemesh and is planning to open centers in Ashdod and the north.
Gutman recommends that other companies look at the Haredi sector. "All the suspicions, fears and stigmas disappear when you meet face-to-face," he says.
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