'Continuing Education' for State Workers: A Multi-million-shekel Con?

Among the courses offered are welding, pottery and puppet theater, and those offering the classes include no small number of self-declared experts.

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Employees at the National Insurance Institute of Israel.
Employees at the National Insurance Institute of Israel. Credit: Nir Kafri

State employees receive extra pay totaling thousands of shekels a year each for having taken continuing education courses, but there is no oversight for these courses and they often have nothing to do with the employee’s work, TheMarker has found.

The supplementary pay cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of shekels a year.

“Everyone know about it, and it’s convenient for everyone,” says one worker who attended such a course. “Everyone shows up with laptops and watches movies during the course. It happened during my course; that’s the method. The lecturer at the private college talks – no one knows what he actually knows, and it’s not really important – and occasionally there’s an alert when a supervisor shows up. When that happens, everyone suddenly starts listening to the lecturer. The supervisor goes and everyone goes back to their movies. It’s pleasant for everyone. No one fails, and afterwards you get a raise of a few hundred shekels. Who would say no?” she says.

In practice, raises for continuing education courses can total thousands of shekels a year per worker. State employees are eligible to take two courses a year. Each course is supposed to include 400 course hours. Completing a course is worth a minimum of 329 shekels ($84) a month, for the duration of the employee’s tenure.

According to the Finance Ministry’s salaries department, the state paid employees an extra 205 million shekels for participating in continuing education classes last year.

Many of the courses aren’t even presented as being relevant to employees’ work. Among the courses offered are welding, pottery and puppet theater; and institutions offering courses include a shooting club, a veterinary clinic and no small number of self-declared experts.

The program, which enables employees to attend subsidized courses during work hours, began with a limited group of workers in 1979. Nowadays, though, most state employees are eligible.

In addition, the list of institutions eligible to offer courses has expanded inexplicably, and now includes 150, only half of which are universities, colleges or other recognized academic centers. The Education Ministry has a department that is supposed to supervise each course, but the ministry would not tell TheMarker when these examinations were done.

The other half of the 150 includes dozens of colleges that lack recognition from the Council of Higher Education. Some were set up specifically to offer courses to state employees.

One such college, Ya’ad, offers a list of courses on its website, including “expedited” courses, and woos state employees by pointing out that the raises they receive in exchange could total half a million shekels over the course of a career. Yet the college does not say who its lecturers are, and responded to an inquiry from TheMarker by cursing at the reporter.

Other institutions include private psychotherapy clinics as well as NGOs including Natal – Israel Trauma Center for Victims of Terror and War, the Israel Cancer Association and the Association for the Commemoration of the Fallen Soldiers of the IDF Signal Corps.

Asked why state employees are eligible to take classes in crafts such as ceramics and welding, the Education Ministry explained that these continuing education classes are meant for teachers. However, TheMarker found that one ceramics studio was given a permit to offer courses to all state employees except for teachers.

When a reporter from TheMarker called one such institution, pretending to be a state employee interested in a course, and explicitly stated that she did not meet the terms that the company’s representative listed for state employees, the representative suggested that the reporter find a way to present the course as relevant to her job.

A call to a shooting club, on the other hand, revealed that any state employee could sign up for classes on shooting range supervision, shooting instruction and managing an armed organization.

Courses taken at institutions that are not on the list are not recognized, no matter how prestigious the institution or how relevant the course is to the employee’s work. One worker asked to be given recognition for a course she took at an important international institution that was directly related to her work, but was told to take a course in Israel instead.

“When I started to look, I was shocked – dozens of pathetic courses at even more pathetic institutions. I was told, ‘Go with the flow, choose some class, sit and don’t do anything, and you’ll get money,’” she recounts.

As for how state employees choose a place to study, the Education Ministry stated that it does not have a list of recognized institutions. Instead, employees find out about study programs via the institutions themselves, said the ministry.

A quick search online found more than a few places that said they offer continuing education classes for state employees. One such place was First Step College, which offers infant development classes. The school’s method is not recognized by the education or health ministries, and the Education Ministry said that the school does not actually have permission to participate in the program. Yet the school showed TheMarker its permit from the ministry.

“This is a completely unregulated subject and the Education Ministry has no control over it,” said a source well versed in the subject.

“Until the state comptroller steps in... this field isn’t going to get any oversight. Hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ shekels are being wasted on this ridiculous industry for two decades now, and no one cares.”

The Education Ministry stated in response that the rules and regulations for continuing education courses are published by the ministry’s director general, and that in keeping with the Freedom of Employment Law, any institution that meets the published criteria can offer courses.

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