One of the overriding themes of the recent Knesset elections and the efforts to form a new government revolved around demands that more ultra-Orthodox youth enlist in the IDF. The issue is a divisive one, but, in fact, small numbers of Haredi young men have been enlisting in specially designed army programs for decades.

The Nahal Haredi brigades, for instance, provide ultra-Orthodox soldiers with an environment in which they can maintain their level of observance and serve with religiously like-minded compatriots.

The IDF has, moreover, established programs to prepare enlistees for life after the army. This week, nearly two dozen Haredi soldiers received certificates making them Microsoft Certified IT Professionals (MCITP), a professional accreditation awarded on completion of a series of training courses for information technology positions such as database administrator and enterprise messaging administrator.

Microsoft certification is used by many high-tech companies as an important criterion in hiring decisions; certificate holders, therefore, have a big advantage for many of the IT jobs in both established tech companies and start-ups.

The soldiers, ranging in age from 22 to 26, took the course at the John Bryce Hi-Tech College in Tel Aviv, under the guidance of professionals from Matrix, Israel’s largest tech-personnel firm. The course was given in the context of the Shachar program (a Hebrew acronym for “absorption of Haredim into the workplace”), which was established in 2007 in order to provide ultra-Orthodox soldiers with job skills they can use in the army and, afterwards, in civilian life.

The 800-hour course was held over a six-month period. In order to receive certification, soldiers needed to pass a battery of five tests given by Microsoft on databases, networks, server technology, the inner workings of Windows, and more. The course was free to the soldiers (on the private market, training for MCITP certification can cost in excess of NIS 10,000, or $2,700), mostly paid for by the Economics and Trade Ministry and the Joint Distribution Committee.

Since its inception, Shachar has graduated hundreds of soldiers in a variety of tech and non-tech courses, helping them to find employment after they finish their service. This particular group of 22 soldiers will serve in the Israeli Air Force in IT roles in its computer division.

Shachar programs are held by all divisions of the IDF, said Natan Hananya, the IAF’s Shachar coordinator. “This is the first MCITP course we have run in the Air Force, and as far as we are concerned the course was an absolute success. We plan to double the number of participants in the next course, and hope to enroll hundreds of Haredi soldiers in similar IT courses each year.”

At the graduation ceremony for certificate recipients last week, General Ilan Boger, head of the Manpower Division of the IAF, said that “the Shachar program represents the best way to bring all parts of the Jewish people closer together. This course… will later enable them to find their place in Israel’s labor market. I congratulate them for completing a difficult course successfully, even though they had no background. They will now be able to serve with pride in the IAF, which has an advanced technological environment that they will be able to help manage.”