Finding employment
Finding employmentiStock

From his home in the quiet Israeli town of Yavne, one man is designing an approach he believes can change how Israel and the world integrate people into the workforce.

With decades of background in government and public service, Rafi Gelbart stresses that if not proactive, the world may just be in for the greatest wave of global unemployment since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

Gelbart is the founder and director of Machon Shipour, an organization which has worked with many different communities and locales designing programs to encourage greater involvement in the workforce. He is quick to explain that his organization is by no means an “employment agency.”

“I don’t get people jobs,” he says. “That is their responsibility. My goal is to give them the tools to know how to find those jobs.”

The institute opened its doors in 1995 after a gradual effort to achieve success which began as early as 1987 when Gelbart returned from the US after serving as a professor in market economics. The late 1980’s was a time of large-scale unemployment in Israel, and the situation exacerbated with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s.

Gelbart devised a program called “Self-directed job search,” whereby “we would help people to help themselves,” he says, quoting Maimonides' teaching as that being the greatest form of charity.

The program grew and within a short amount of time, Gelbart was seeing success rates of 75-80 percent of those who used his method reported they were holding down jobs for multiple years.

In 1995, following successful engagements with the Jerusalem Municipality and partnering with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the program went national. It is, in fact, still in effect today.

Gelbart believes the tools which worked for other immigrant groups are just as relevant for North American immigrants. For many, he says, fears of where to find a job are a lead factor precluding greater aliya (immigration to Israel).

“Often the greatest challenge facing a job seeker is that they don’t have the tools and confidence to go out and find the job. Our goal is to give them those tools and then they can achieve professional success,” Gelbart explains.

Machon Shipour also found evidence showing one of the greatest and potential-filled demographics for entering into the workforce is the community of people aged sixty and over. To date they have worked with some 800 people in this age bracket, and 68 percent are now gainfully employed.

“Some one million people in Israel over the age of 60 are living in poverty, and the rate of unemployment in this sector is the highest of any country in the OECD,” Gelbart says.

He also points out that Israel also has no decent comprehensive national insurance available for retirees. Gelbart's approach is to encourage those over 60 who might have been let go of their previous jobs not to think they are aged out of the employment market.

“There is still a great deal that you can achieve and there are many jobs that are appropriate for all people in this group.”

As a result, Machon Shipour offers special training programs to reenter high quality jobs. According to OECD, Israel is now number 4 in the quality of jobs offered to the 60+ age group.

In a country where there is wide-spread discussion of unemployment amongst the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, Gelbart is equally committed to addressing those groups.

“Because of cultural differences, I don’t try to teach them but rather we teach their community leaders how to use our tools and we are seeing a trend towards greater inclusion in the workforce,” he explains.

But while Gelbart is encouraged by the success and believes it can continue, when discussing the macro issues facing unemployment in the future he says that the perspective is going to change. Pointing to issues like automation of vehicles which would take tens of millions of professional drivers around the world off the roads, he says we need to be prepared.

“It is critical that we not wait until it’s too late to prepare for what would be an employment disaster,” he warns. “These people need to be trained now for different jobs because if we think creatively these types of challenges can be overcome.”

Looking back on an extensive career during which he has helped thousands of others realize the dream of gainful unemployment, Gelbart says he is sure of one thing.

“We will need to be creative. But we’ve faced challenges in the past and this too can be overcome if we recognize the scope of the problem and are ready to respond in advance,” he concludes.