Going Against Its Own Strategy, Israel's Labor Ministry Unit Offering Training in Low-productivity Jobs

Nati Tucker
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Labor Minister Itzik Shmuli in Jerusalem in June.
Labor Minister Itzik Shmuli in Jerusalem in June.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem
Nati Tucker

The government’s declared goal is to create more high-productivity jobs in the post-coronavirus era, but the Labor Ministry’s Vocational Training Division is doing exactly the opposite and budgeting for programs that prepare people for jobs such as plumbers, cosmeticians and gardeners.

The division has been allocated 1.3 billion shekels ($390 million) over the next few years as part of a government strategy to better align the labor market with the changing needs of the economy in the wake of the pandemic. That means training for high-productivity jobs, especially in high-tech. In many cases this was done in cooperation with the Israel Innovation Authority.

Although most of the Israeli economy has reopened after a year of coronavirus restrictions, the broad unemployment rate stood at 16.3% in February and is expected to remain high for the rest of the year. Experts say many employers are shedding low-wage, low-productivity jobs as the transition to a more digitized economy accelerates and that the government must take the lead in retraining workers.

Of the 1.3 billion shekels the state has set aside for this initiative, 300 million is being directed to the Labor Ministry’s Vocational Training Division, which has been trying to make changes after years of criticism for failing to do its job adequately. But the division is setting up training programs that have little relevance for the current labor market.

Among the training programs in the mechanical trades, it plans to fund jobs in aircraft construction, metalworking, engraving, locksmithing, machine installation, measurement and quality assurance and machine maintenance.

The plan is for these courses to be provided as part of the division’s "On The Job" training program. Employers who are seeking new workers and willing to train them on their own are offered 10,000-shekel grants and wage subsidies while workers are undergoing training.

But the OTJ program has never met with success and failed to attract enough interest from employers to spend more than half of its budget.

The ministry defended the program on the grounds that it was being done in collaboration with employers, which shows that the skills being taught are needed and that graduates would find employment.

“Decisions have been made in accordance with economic conditions and are temporary,” the ministry said in a statement. “In the crisis that has arisen, the most important thing is to return as many workers to the labor market as possible, and we are working to do so.”

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