The Taub Center’s Annual Herbert M. Singer International Policy Conference

The 2018 Herbert M. Singer Annual International Policy Conference brought together policy makers, academics and business professionals to address the most pressing challenges and promising opportunities facing the Israeli labor market in the coming decades.

Taub Center Director General Suzie Patt Benvenisti welcomed conference attendees and extended special thanks to Jay Sandak, President of the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation, for his family’s ongoing support of the Center’s annual conference.

Mr. Sandak shared his wishes for a productive day and underlined the importance of the Taub Center’s work in advancing the wellbeing of Israelis from all walks of life. The Taub Center was excited to welcome Tom Sandak who accompanied his father, Jay, to this year’s conference.

The conference kicked off with opening remarks by Mordechai Elisha, General Director of the Labor Division in the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. Mr. Elisha highlighted the professions that are expected to continue to be relevant in the wake of future automation.

He emphasized the role of technology in preparing for the future, summarizing: “Israel will
know how to confront the challenges that are before us, and we will be able to use technology in a way that improves quality of life of all the sectors, areas, and populations in the economy.”

Next, Taub Center President Professor Avi Weiss framed the topics of the day by presenting an overview of Taub Center research on Israel’s labor market. He outlined topics such as labor market differences by gender, sector, and geographic area, employment challenges of Haredi men and Arab Israeli women, income inequality, and the high-tech economy.

Focusing on high tech, Professor Weiss raised concerns about sustainability and potential for growth in this booming sector given Israel’s deficit in the highly skilled workers that the tech industry requires.

Professor Weiss then introduced the Keynote Lecture by Professor Eugene Kandel of Hebrew University, CEO of Start-Up Nation Central and former Head of the National Economic Council in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Professor Kandel discussed Israel’s two “very different and essentially disconnected economies,” emphasizing the need to regulate and invest in the two economies differently: “Nothing that the government does for one economy fits the other,” he said.

Professor Kandel’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Professor Weiss: Productivity, High-Tech, and the Start-Up Nation. The first speaker was Michal Tzuk, former Deputy of Employment at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. She discussed the technological and employment challenges that lie ahead for the labor market.

She warned that “the rhythm of technology change is just increasing,” but by ‘reskilling’ and ‘upskilling’— that is, teaching new, relevant skills later in one’s career — workers will be able keep up.

Dalia Narkis, former Chair of Manpower Israel, followed Ms. Tzuk. She noted that the skills needed for labor market success have evolved in recent years. “The skills that are required are critical thinking, the ability to solve problems, the ability to work in a non-traditional work environment, and adaptivity… we need the ability to reinvent ourselves.”She also emphasized the importance of English language skills in succeeding in the modern and future labor market.

Dr. Oren Shoval, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of smart shared ride start-up Via brought the panel to a close by sharing his perspective from the vantage point of an Israeli high tech start-up. Dr. Shoval highlighted how, in many ways, Via reflects the needs of the current and future labor market, offering high-tech, on-demand, rapid services to its customers around the world.

The next panel discussion, The Geographic Matching and Concentration of Firms, Workers, and Places of Residence, was chaired by Professor Eric Gould, outgoing Chair of the Taub Center Labor Policy Program and Professor of Economics at Hebrew University. He presented data on the geographic concentration of several socioeconomic indicators — including population share, income, employment, college graduation rate, and life satisfaction rate.

Professor Gould then introduced the Keynote Speaker, Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard University, a world-renowned leader in the field of Urban Economics. He presented his research on the variables that lead to economic urban success, emphasizing the importance of proximity and human capital. “Physical proximity makes it possible to transfer ever denser, ever more complicated ideas… Proximity and the exchange of ideas are the lifeblood of creativity.”

Professor Glaeser compared the economic health of the United States and Israel, and explored place-based policy options to promote successful cities. However, he cautioned, “Just because the free market gets it wrong, doesn’t mean the government gets it right.”

The keynote was followed by an address from MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) on big-picture economics in Israel from his legislative and social activist perspective. He addressed solutions to known challenges and expressed his mission to “try to lead change… not just by legislation in Knesset but by real action in the field.” Following MK Shmuli, Efrat Dagan, the Global Staffing Lead for Google, spoke about the importance of building an infrastructure and ecosystem for innovation and development.

“I believe there is talent everywhere,” said Dagan, as she outlined the key ways to grow an innovation ecosystem, including, for example, bridging cultural divides, investing in talented individuals at a young age and from diverse backgrounds, and creating professional support systems with experienced mentors and stakeholders.

Next, Maya Dolgin, Taub Center Director of Community Relations, introduced the pilot episode of DataPoint, the Center’s new podcast, which zooms in on the people and stories behind the numbers in the Taub Center’s research. The episode tells the story of Aziz Kaddan, Founder of Myndlift, and his experience navigating the “Start-Up Nation” as an Arab Israeli entrepreneur.

The final panel discussion of the day, Workforce Diversity, was chaired by Yulia Eitan, Head of the Employment Administration for Special Populations at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services. Ms. Eitan presented both current and projected labor market trends among women and minorities in Israel, highlighting wage, employment, and academic gaps between and within the different population sectors.

Next, the audience heard from Rivi Beller, CEO of VeHadarta, an organization that works to advance the participation of older Israelis in the labor market. Ms. Beller argued that due to declining birth rates and the growing elderly population, Israeli employers should take advantage of the abundant human capital that can be found among older Israelis who are equipped to work well beyond the official retirement age

. Ayman Saif, former Head of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors in the Prime Minister’s Office was the next panelist. Mr. Saif presented a look at challenges concerning Israel’s Arab sector, emphasizing his view that a lack of available jobs in close proximity to Arab Israeli communities is among the largest barriers to their labor market participation. Accordingly, he encouraged investment in employment opportunities near Arab population centers.

The final presenter was Moishi Friedman, Co-Founder and CEO of Kamatech, an organization that works to advance the employment of Haredim in high tech. According to Mr. Friedman, today’s Haredi community has strengthened to the point where they can participate in the economy more fully without feeling that their lifestyle is vulnerable to the influences of the modern world.

The Herbert M. Singer Annual International Policy Conference 2018: Envisioning the Future of Israel’s Labor Market was a great success that brought together great economic minds, from Taub Center researchers to Israeli and international experts, with participants from diverse backgrounds to envision a future for Israel’s labor market that serves and benefits all citizens.

Thanks to generous support from the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation, the Taub Center implemented an expanded dissemination plan to increase the impact of the conference, reaching broad audiences beyond the 200 individuals in attendance.

This included the first-ever livestreaming of the full event, filmed simultaneously by two cameras, and funding for the first episode of the Taub Center podcast, DataPoint, which has been downloaded over 430 times to date. The Taub Center wishes to extend its appreciation to all those who participated in the conference in person or Online and looks forward to further researching this crucial policy area and promoting public discourse around these important subjects.