Over the past 15 years, Israel has made considerable progress in enhancing the participation in the labor force of groups with historically lower rates, such as Arab women, ultra-Orthodox men, Ethiopian immigrants, and other groups with more limited education and skills. Most, however, are concentrated in low-wage jobs—in 2014, 27% of wage earners in Israel earned the minimum hourly wage or less, and among the working poor this rises to 45%.
That same year, the number of Israeli families in poverty where at least one person was employed stood at 250,000, up from 160,000 in 2004. This on the one hand reflects the success in integrating more poor families into employment, but at the same time it reflects the consequence of their low earnings levels.
These trends reinforce a recent statement by the OECD that, when speaking about economic progress, the issue of job quality is just as important as job quantity. Job quality relates to a number of key dimensions, such as earnings levels, job security, the quality of the working environment, and opportunities for advancement. To this end, the search is on in all countries to find effective ways for promoting advancement.
One important initiative in Israel is JDC-TEVET's Employment Retention and Advancement program (referred to as Kidum, Hebrew for "advancement"), which is being evaluated by MJB.
Kidum works intensively with a range of existing employment programs to strengthen their emphasis on job quality. It works with the participants over a two-year period, helping them develop and implement a customized longer-term plan for their personal career advancement. Kidum was initially implemented with a range of populations including ultra-Orthodox men, Ethiopian-Israeli women, and Arab men and women.
Many low-wage earners cannot afford the tuition fees of programs that provide the additional certification or academic degrees necessary for career advancement. Thus, an important element of Kidum is the financial assistance it provides for post-secondary education. MJB's evaluation found that about half of the participants took advantage of the assistance and began studying to upgrade their qualifications.
Another component is the use of volunteer mentors. Kidum's mentoring process gave participants first-hand exposure to successful workers—even those from different fields.
Overall, MJB's research found that a sizable proportion of Kidum participants improved the quality of their employment after two years. The program had an especially large impact on Ethiopian-Israeli women.
The initial success of the Kidum pilot has now led to efforts to expand the program in a number of ways, which the Institute is continuing to evaluate.
For example, one of the major focuses of the expanded Kidum program is ultra-Orthodox men, who despite significant employment growth in recent years continue to have wage levels that lag behind.
One of the most promising initiatives in the works is an extensive national randomized control trial of Kidum with low-wage earners in different regions of the country, in cooperation with Israel's Social Security Administration.