DataPoint: “Israel 2040” – The Future Labor Market

What skills are needed to integrate into tomorrow’s labor market, and what can be done today to prepare for the expected changes in the workforce in the coming decades? In this episode we speak with Nebal Abu Dabes, a young woman from the Bedouin city of Rahat, who recently began a new career in e-commerce and digital marketing after participating in a skills training program run by the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). We also talk with Einav Aharoni-Yonas, the former CEO of JDC TEVET, and with Shavit Madhala, a Taub Center researcher who studies the future labor market in Israel.

This episode, recorded in Hebrew, is part two in our “Israel 2040” series, in which we examine the phenomena that will characterize Israel’s society and economy in about 20 years and are already being shaped today. Listen on this page or on your favorite podcast platform.

Until Nebal Abu Dabes participated in the LINK program, operated by Riyan Centers and the JDC, she did not have any e-commerce or digital marketing skills, but since she completed the program she has opened her own digital marketing business that helps companies in the area reach Bedouin consumers in Rahat.

LINK is one of a number of governmental and non-governmental programs with the goal of creating a better match between the skills of Israel’s workforce and the skills that will be in high demand in Israel’s future labor market. “The skills considered important in the future labor market are skills such as the ability to solve complex problems, the ability to negotiate, and creativity,” says Shavit, who has researched the topic for many years. “Basically, we’re talking about technological and digital skills on the one hand and about human skills like creativity and emotional intelligence on the other.”

These are exactly the types of skills Nebal is required to use in her new role. As she describes: “My job requires creativity and thinking outside the box in order work effectively and create results.” Not to mention, of course, the technological skills required to order and sell items online or to create effective social media campaigns for her clients.

The emphasis on adapting the skills of Israel’s workforce to those that will be in demand in the future stems from problematic characteristics of Israel’s current labor market and fears about what they could mean for the country’s economic future. Einav, as she describes, sees the major failures of the current labor market as twofold: “There are two root problems in the labor market: The first problem is under-utilization, and this is essentially a problem of integrating populations into the labor market.” As Einav explains, half of current first graders in Israel are either Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or Arab Israeli, groups with historically low skill levels, and these children will make up 50% of the new labor force supply 20 years down the road. “The second problem,” Einav continues, “is the problem of inefficiency – this is the problem of low skill levels among Israeli workers.”

Who, in particular, has lower skill levels and therefore skills that are more likely to be replaced in the future labor market by automation? Shavit explains that young people, workers with lower education levels, women, and Arab Israelis are all at higher risk of losing their jobs to automation because of their skill levels. Furthermore, Einav notes that low-skilled workers are most effected by crises like the COVID pandemic. “If an employee’s skill level is low, chances are that he will be the first to leave the workforce [in a time of crisis], and if his skill level remains low, chances are that when the economy recovers he will be among the last to return to work,” she says.

In the episode, both Einav and Shavit discuss the great importance of taking action to improve the skill-level of Israeli workers. Of course, there are ways for individuals in any job to improve their own skillsets, but Shavit thinks we need to go beyond that. “At the systemic level, we need to invest in population groups that are at risk and give them access to high-quality skills that will also be relevant in the future labor market,” she says. “And, of course, we need to invest in imparting relevant skills in the earlier stages of life through the education system.”

Even though they highlight many things that still need to change, Shavit, Einav, and Nebal are all quite optimistic about the future. Despite doomsday predictions throughout history that technology would replace people’s jobs and leave them without the means to support themselves, Shavit reminds us that “technological advancement has also led to the creation of many new jobs. For the most part, technology has simply changed the nature of jobs, rather than making them disappear.”

This sentiment also seems to accurately describe Nebal’s experience with the skills training program in which she participated. Before the course she was working to coordinate nursing services for elderly Arabs and did not find her work particularly interesting or challenging. But taking the course opened up a whole new world of possibilities for her. “If I compare the Nebal of today to the Nebal of a year ago,” she says, “I see a complete change, and for the better.”

More on the Taub Center podcast

In the Taub Center’s podcast, DataPoint, we zoom in from Israel’s bigger socioeconomic trends and focus on real stories. Who are the people – the millions of data points – who stand behind the numbers? How do their individual journeys embody or complicate the trends we see at the macro level?

You can subscribe to DataPoint on iTunes, Stitcher, or in any other app where you listen to podcasts. Be in touch at podcast@taubcenter.org.il.

Thank you to the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation for making this episode possible! For more information about sponsoring future episodes, contact michalp@taubcenter.org.il.

Thanks to the awesome team at Podcastico for editing and sound, and for all of their work to make this podcast episode possible.

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