Israel must restore technological education to the level it enjoyed a generation ago if it is to win the battle against poverty and inequality, World ORT Director General and CEO Avi Ganon says.
Mr Ganon’s impassioned plea came in response to the publication of the National Insurance Institute’s Annual Poverty Report, which shows that Israel has the highest poverty rate of any OECD country.
Despite some progress in reducing poverty and social gaps, Mr Ganon said living standards were still too low – particularly in the northern and southern peripheries of the country where World ORT’s operational arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, focuses its work.
“The only way out of the cycle of poverty is not by relying on welfare but by earning from employment… However, the report reveals that work alone will not bring about the desired redemption and welfare, so that the rate of poverty among ‘working families’ rose in 2016,” he wrote in the Israeli publication Hashikma.
The solution, he insists, is to provide access to quality education which is relevant to the modern-day labour market.
“Students must be trained to operate in technology-intensive environments that rely on the pillars of science… you won’t earn as much working in a pizza parlour as you will as a computer engineer.”
It is an approach which World ORT has taken consistently and successfully since well before the modern State of Israel was founded, its vocational training frameworks enabling its graduates to “be part of the labour market, to connect to innovation, to achieve economic independence and to improve their social status”.
Mr Ganon said academics had made a critical mistake in pushing policy away from such frameworks: “They thought that the country needed only scientists and inventors, without asking the simple question: Who would do the job, and why should they not earn a decent salary?”
“The technological education that has been pushed to the edge of extinction over the past 15 years must be restored to its former glory,” he urged.
This would reinforce the sense of self-worth among those whose qualifications would bring them the experience of accomplishment and significance.
Mr Ganon’s argument has been supported by research conducted by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
Examining why productivity was low in Israel, it concluded that the country effectively had two separate economies – the export-oriented high-tech sector with high wages and rapid growth, and the rest of the labour market, characterised by low wages and slow growth.
However, there is little mobility from the local sector to the high-tech sector resulting in the latter suffering a lack of workers.
“In order to bridge the skills gap between workers in the two sectors, we should think about vocational training that will enable employment mobility and broaden accessibility to employment in the export sector,” researcher Gilad Brand concluded.