New program aims to bring Ethiopian immigrants into tech economy

$14-million effort will focus on upgrading the skills and job opportunities for a community that needs an employment boost

Illustrative: Ethiopian-Israelis protest police brutality and mistreatment in Israeli society, Tel Aviv,  June 3, 2015. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Ethiopian-Israelis protest police brutality and mistreatment in Israeli society, Tel Aviv, June 3, 2015. (Flash90)

The immigration of Ethiopian Jews to Israel has been a mixed success story: On the one hand, statistics show that the majority of members of the community are working; on the other hand, the jobs they are doing are not the high-quality ones all Israelis hope for.

To correct that, the government announced this week that it would spend NIS 55 million ($14 million) on programs to improve the work status of Ethiopian immigrants. Job training, academic programs, and grants to employers for hiring workers of Ethiopian descent are all part of the new effort initiated by the government Ministerial Committee on the Integration of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Descent into Israeli Society.

The project is to be carried out over the next four years, with the aim of upgrading the skills of at least 3,600 Ethiopian-descent youths and adults, enabling them to access the high-quality jobs in Israel’s high-tech economy.

A study released last June by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel — based on numbers supplied by the Central Bureau of Statistics — showed that in both employment and education, Israelis of Ethiopian descent have made great progress over the past two decades. By 2011, 72% of Ethiopian Israelis at prime working ages (25-54) were employed, only slightly lower than the 79% employment rate of the non-Ethiopian Jewish population. And, more of them were working full-time.

Nevertheless, there were still significant gaps between Ethiopian-background Israelis and others. About 21% of Ethiopian Israelis educated in Israel are to be found in the top levels of the labor market, as compared to about 40% among the rest of the Jewish population, and about 60% are employed in occupations for low-skilled or unskilled workers, compared to 41% among the rest of the Jewish population (among first-generation immigrants, both those metrics were far lower).

It is those gaps that the new program seeks to close. The Economy Ministry has been working on this program for the past 18 months — consulting with academics, organizational representatives, government officials, representatives of local authorities, regional representatives and community activists — and this past week, the action plan was officially unveiled.

Under the new arrangement, schools will establish special advanced placement courses for high school students of Ethiopian background, in order to upgrade their study skills and habits, as well as provide assistance in helping them to pass the matriculation exams required to get into college. At the university level, counselors will work with students to further upgrade their skills, and direct them to study programs that will help them actualize career goals.

Meanwhile, workers already in the job market will be able to avail themselves of training programs to upgrade their skills, with the aim of enabling them to join university degree programs (such as those offered by the Open University) to enable them to qualify for better jobs. The goal will be to get at least 3,600 members of the community of about 125,000 into “high quality” jobs in the tech economy, the Ministry said.

According to Michal Fink, ‬senior director for strategy and policy planning at the Economy Ministry, “the program approved is the result of a long process that included discussions between various units within and outside the Ministry, fruitful consultation with people of Ethiopian descent, and an analysis of the current situation in the economy. It emerged that most of the focus needs to be on upgrading employment. While the participation rate for those of Ethiopian origin is similar to that of the general population, their unemployment rate is higher (8.8% as against 5.9% in the general population), the gaps in salary are significant, and there is a 40% gap as compared to the general population, irrespective of education.

“The main measure of success of the program is integration and upgrading employment for around 3,600 people of Ethiopian descent, and includes a range of tools designed to best integrate them into the labor market, while emphasizing upgrading employment and integration into high-quality employment, and increased salary levels. I believe that our efforts, in cooperation with community representatives, will lead to the advancement of those of Ethiopian origin and their integration into high-quality positions in the job market,” Fink added.

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