Vocational Education Is Too Important Not to Make It Available to Everyone

The next generation of vocational education must be directed at young people who have a full range of abilities and backgrounds.

Yes, it was once a dumping ground for underachievers, but it cannot and should not be that way

Hats off to Education Minister Shay Piron. After nearly 40 years of watching the ministry's leadership engaged in crushing and destroying vocational education, rising to the podium is a minister who truly and sincerely grasps the social, educational and economic importance of this training and is taking real steps to build it up again.

The onslaught by three cabinet members — Yesh Atid's Meir Cohen, Silvan Shalom from Likud and Amir Peretz of Hatnuah — against Piron and his attempts at promoting vocational education warrants a serious response.

The three ministers represent different parties and differing political positions, so their objections apparently don’t arise from political interests. What they do have in common is their Sephardi background and their hailing from towns in Israel's outlying southern region, namely Dimona, Be'er Sheva and Sderot.

These three cabinet ministers say they are worried that vocational training threatens to widen the country's socioeconomic rifts and is aimed for the most part at the weaker elements of society in the country's peripheral regions, which consist mostly of Sephardi Jews. They raise the possibility of vocational education directing Sephardi youth toward low-status, low-paying jobs, thereby relegating them to the bottom rungs of the social ladder (as described in the column by Sami Peretz in Haaretz, Sept. 23).

I just want to say to the three honorable ministers: You are absolutely right. If that was what vocational education stood for, not only would it be better not to rebuild it, it would be a crime to do so. Restoring the image of vocational training as the last chance to give an education to a teenager on his or her way to dropping out or as a stream to be forced on certain segments of society is the last thing I'd want to do.

For 10 years I served as chairman of Bosmat High School in Haifa, an outstanding vocational school where I sent my son. I personally have had excellent experience with the vocational education system, and regret that this wasn't the experience of the three ministers from the south who saw vocational education transformed into nothing more than a second-rate education. Let's not repeat that bitter experience.

The next generation of vocational education must be directed at young people who have a full range of abilities and backgrounds. The industrial world needs people of every kind and it opens up opportunities for initiative, for a career and for professional development of all kinds. That's where the future lies; that's where the jobs are that will lead this country and its citizens forward and keep our children here with us — and not force them to seek foreign pastures.

These jobs are waiting for the youth of Ramat Hasharon, Merhavia and from the Carmel no less than for the youth from Ma'alot, Dimona and Carmiel. It is our responsibility as supporters of the new vocational education to prove that we are building quality education for all. We must build this educational track so that you — Cohen, Peretz and Shalom — can support it with all your heart.

The global labor market is in the midst of a drastic and fundamental change involving huge upheavals. We are already deep within this change, and it is clear to everyone in the world — except in Israel for some reason — that one of the basic solutions for confronting the volatile future is to offer the next generation sophisticated long-term education and training in vocational fields. Israel must climb aboard this wave or face being left behind. It needs to be innovative and trailblazing precisely in this field.

I am happy to cooperate with the Education Ministry on three projects it is leading which have enormous importance in my view:

- Establishing two vocational schools, one in the center of the country and the other in the periphery. We insisted that students at all levels, and not just the weaker ones, be enrolled in the vocational streams and have received the ministry's agreement on this.

- Training new higher-caliber and more capable vocational teachers who can lead their students to a successful future.

- Building a national team to compete at the WorldSkills international tournament — the Olympics for youth in skilled professions, one of the world's most prestigious events.

You should have seen the teenagers from 67 countries in Germany this past July competing among themselves in 40 different professional skills using the world's most advanced equipment with an audience of nearly 100,000 watching. We will accompany our team to the next tournament at Sao Paulo in Brazil in two years in order to continue building the growing prestige and improving image of vocational education.

We can continue glorifying academic degrees in law, cinema or communications, but we shouldn't be surprised when the next generation finds itself in terms of relevant labor skills in a hopeless situation. We can rebuild vocational education in a way that provides students with the tools needed to deal with the new world rising before our very eyes: the tools of initiative, creativity, exploiting opportunities, diligence and professional ability.

I am old enough to remember why we returned to this country and created this state — so that we could stop being refugees forced to engage in commerce and finance, and so that we'd have the privilege and opportunity to go back to the healthy values of working, creating and building.

Let us bring back even a little of these values. Let us go back and teach our children crafts and agriculture as early as third grade, and not because it is good for the economy (even though it is). It is vital for the mental health of us all, across all our population groups and sectors.

The writer is an industrialist and founder of the Iscar manufacturing concern.

Tomer Appelbaum