Construction training program draws haredi men

Posted on 15 December 2014 by Josh Green


An Economy Ministry-led program to train Israelis for construction work has drawn 150 ultra-Orthodox men, and more are clamoring to sign up, according to Construction and Wood Workers Union chairman Itzhak Moyal.

The NIS 90 million government program is intended to train Israelis in construction work over the course of several months, with the promise of a good salary at the end.

“This branch today isn’t the branch that it once was. It’s technology. It’s high-tech,” said Moyal, explaining the need to train construction workers. “Have you seen how they put up a drywall today, or how they build steps? It’s all technological.”

HarediConstructionHaredi men, who have among the lowest labor participation rates of any group in Israel, were attracted to the field for two reasons.

For one, the program offered to teach them practical job skills and earn a decent wage at a tough time. Ultra-Orthodox with large families used to receive increased levels of government support for each subsequent child, but former finance minister Yair Lapid scaled those benefits back in an effort to nudge parents into the labor force.

The other reasons: “The rabbis gave them the go-ahead, because the construction business doesn’t have a lot of women in it.”

Moyal, who just won a second five-year term in his role, helped set up the program as a means of getting more Israeli citizens to work in a field that has become dependent on Palestinians and foreign workers. Last month, Housing Minister Uri Ariel floated the idea of allowing construction workers from Gaza to work in Israel to help fill a gap.

With a shortage of 20,000 workers and at least 200 managers, Moyal hopes the ministry program will help draw in unskilled workers and give them a shot at career advancement.

“My dream is to open the schools that closed in the last 20 years and turn the construction business into an alternative for those who aren’t going to be lawyers and doctors,” he said.

Moyal also pushed an across-the-board minimum wage for construction workers, whether domestic or foreign. The policy served not only to draw Israelis into the field, but also to increase the price of foreign labor, making foreign workers less attractive options for builders.

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