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Israel’s ‘opportunity capital’ seeks a more vibrant and inclusive job market

The late-May Negev conference matching employers with social organizations representing job-seekers from overlooked population sectors. Credit: Tor HaMidbar via Facebook.
The late-May Negev conference matching employers with social organizations representing job-seekers from overlooked population sectors. Credit: Tor HaMidbar via Facebook.

By Megan E. Turner/

Southern Israel’s Negev desert, though it makes up nearly two-thirds of the country’s landmass, has long missed out on the development and technological awakening enjoyed by the center of the Jewish state.

Only about 10 percent of Israel’s population lives in the Negev, and until recently, many towns in the area were experiencing population decreases. Local industry has not been strong or varied enough to sustain a growing, thriving population. Even those employers with lucrative positions to offer have suffered from the simple lack of communication with job-seekers, causing many young professionals to abandon southern Israel for better employment prospects.

Enter the Lauder Center for Employment, a joint effort of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the area’s largest city, Be’er Sheva. Amid Be’er Sheva’s rise as the so-called “opportunity capital of Israel,” the organizations that established the Lauder Center two years ago sought to map, analyze and jumpstart the Negev’s job market.

“If you sell the Negev as a quality place, one of the best places in Israel to live, then more jobs will be had,” said Russell Robinson, CEO of JNF-USA.

While the employment scene in southern Israel has arguably enjoyed a blossoming during the past few years, gaps still exist. One missing piece is the direct employment of people from various sectors of Israeli society: Bedouin men and women, mothers, single parents, new immigrants, haredi Jews, people with disabilities and others. Many social organizations try to empower these demographic sectors through employment assistance services, but employers have been slow to learn about the potential new members of the workforce.

With this gap identified, the Lauder Center aimed to match employers with social organizations representing job-seekers from overlooked population sectors. In an unprecedented gathering in late May, the Conference for Human Resource Managers of the Negev made this happen. More than 20 social organizations presented the population sectors they work with to more than 50 Negev-based employers, including factories, educational institutions and high-tech companies. More than 200 people attended the employment conference that featured International companies such as Dell, PayPal and Ikea, which is slated to open in Be’er Sheva in February 2018.

Yalena Linkovsky, with Be’er Sheva’s Municipal Absorption Department, which helps new immigrants settle and integrate into the city and one of the organizations that attended, explained, “Often, employers don’t see the potential in immigrants, they only see the challenges, like having a lack of Hebrew or not yet understanding the work culture of Israel. This allowed us to directly talk to those doing the hiring and explain what our potential employees have to offer. It’s a crucial step in breaking the stigma surrounding these ‘special’ populations.”

“If we don’t take care of the people in the Negev, our Bedouin neighbors or those from the religious communities, for example, the employment model of the Negev won’t work,” said Bella Alexandrov, CEO of Tor HaMidbar, which develops Israel’s geo-social periphery by building and mentoring urban communities that run social businesses.

“This conference is important from all aspects of life,” said Tal Elal, deputy mayor of Be’er Sheva. “Employment doesn’t just keep people here—it brings people here, as well.”

Sigal Moran, head of the northern Negev’s Bnei Shimon Regional Council, said there “is a need for more and more partners to help bring and keep employment in the Negev, and to encourage development here. We have a wonderful opportunity here, and we need all of Israel’s residents to know about it.”

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