After 60 Years, Israeli Military to Replace Biased Classification System

This is a result of the realization that the present method does not suit all the populations that enlist in the IDF – from the ultra-Orthodox to young Ethiopians.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Israeli soldiers on draft day, 2011.
Israeli soldiers on draft day, 2011.Credit: Mor Gal
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces Manpower Directorate is planning to change the classification system for soldiers and to eliminate the Kaba ranking (a battery of intelligence and psychological tests) in two years. The directorate is now banking on a new classification system for soldiers, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2018. This is a result of the realization that the present method does not suit all the populations that enlist in the IDF – from the ultra-Orthodox to young Ethiopians.

According to the plan, the soldiers will no longer receive their assignments based on a one-dimensional grade like the Kaba, but by means of a “professions profile” suited to male and female soldiers. According to a senior officer in the Manpower Directorate, the new classification model will not be based on the psychotechnical exam administered in the recruitment office, but rather on a series of parameters that will be examined during the selection process, including thinking ability, physical fitness, suitability to a different work environment (for example, technical or teaching-oriented) and more.

The directorate believes that examining the cognitive abilities of future soldiers is important, but there are additional important indexes necessary for classifying them. Therefore the indexes that will compose the new “suitability profile” will be thinking, fortitude, implementation, physical fitness, sensitivity and “core values.”

The military plan is to adapt the model of IDF classification for all soldiers to that used at present for female soldiers designated for non-combat roles, which is called “yom hameah.” This is an employment classification conducted in an external, non-army institute, and it includes taking a computerized test, simulations, delivering a speech to see how the recruit faces an audience, and more. At the same time, the IDF intends to conduct the new classification within the army rather than having it administered by external placement institutes. In the past the army would also invite male soldiers designated for combat support roles, but due to budgetary limitations it was decided to cancel that practice.

The Manpower Directorate intends to implement the step, claiming that it is important enough to merit an investment of money, since the IDF dropout rate is high. According to IDF figures, today one of every six male soldiers fails to complete his military service, and the IDF believes that better classification and more suitable job assignments can change these statistics. One of the reasons for the decision to change the classification process is data demonstrating that the Kaba is not suited to all the populations recruited to the IDF.

The IDF Behavior Sciences Department see the employment classification as a good instrument for predicting the soldiers’ suitability to their assignments. An officer in the Manpower Directorate explained in the past that “the Kaba grade doesn’t really tell the difference between one person and another. The employment classification makes it possible to offer a girl who studied dance and art to attend a network manager’s course, because during selection she can be given a kind of ‘taste test’ and a chance to try out appropriate jobs in the army.”

The plan to switch to a “suitability profile” instead of relying on the Kaba alone was accepted during the course of the decisions about the multi-year Gideon plan. A Manpower Directorate officer emphasized that this does not mean that the Kaba grade is irrelevant, asserting that the validity of the test’s classification is high, but rather that it is not “developed,” as he put it, and does not include additional indexes that the IDF is interested in examining. If until now the soldier’s assignment was based mainly on the Kaba (which was composed primarily of the psychotechnical grade and the interview), from now on the personal profile will be based on an examination of additional abilities, in a manner similar to employment classification, in addition to the Kaba ranking.

The army intends to change the entire classification process – from the way in which the “suitability profile” for the various jobs is determined, to conducting the classifications themselves for the military units. At present the army focuses on classifications conducted by the units themselves or the various divisions. For example, selection for the Military Intelligence Directorate is conducted separately, and the directorate itself rather than the Manpower Directorate is responsible. The IDF plans to make one body responsible for all the classifications, and to transfer information among the bodies, so that a soldier who is classified for one unit will not answer the same questionnaires time after time.

The IDF has been using a classification method based on the Kaba since the 1950s. In an interview on the TV investigative program “Hamakor” with Raviv Drucker, Nobel Prize laureate for economics Daniel Kahneman described how the Kaba grade – which is based on the psychotechnical exam in the recruitment office and on the personal interview conducted by psychological evaluators – is determined. Kahneman described six personality traits that the army instructed the evaluators to look for in future soldiers: precision, activism, adjustment to frameworks, motivation for combat, sociability and independence. Today soldiers can find out their Kaba grades, after a petition to the High Court of Justice submitted by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

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