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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Post: Employment Issues and Reliance on Community

A reader emailed me with some fantastic comments on my last Employment related post on the Emergency Parnasa Initiative Meeting as reported by Matzav for which I titled my post "And if we have to pay them more, they are worth every penny." I relate to his comments and I am placing them up as a quick Guest Post. I'm hoping that this week, I will visit a few other employment related subjects because these are important issues and a lot of the information being disseminated and the culture issues surrounding it are (in my opinion and the opinion of others far more qualified to speak on the subject) are problematic.

Guest Post/Commentary follows (with minor edits):

Comments for this thread seems to have digressed towards what I consider to be the tangential issues or work ethic, religious accommodation in scheduling, and the job market for the “therapy professions”. Furthermore the forum covered in the piece seems to be ignoring a very important topic in any discussion of employment within the frum community. The premise of the initiative that was proposed in this gathering was that frum business owners should be more willing to hire frum employees. Another implicit antecedent for this front burner issue is the economy, job market, which has resulted in the current challenges in employment . But in reality, these challenges are somewhat independent of the current economy and job market, and more a function of the lack of education, training, and skills facing the frum community. Much of this has been self-inflicted by a movement towards insularity, an anti-college sentiment, and the social pressures to remain in Yeshiva through one’s 20’s. This shift is about 30 years in the making, and the chickens have come home to roost, only to be exacerbated by the current economy, but not a direct result of it per se.

Instead of restricting one’s aspiration and potential employability to working for frum employers, why aren’t frum people getting real college degrees that would allow them to compete for professional jobs in the general workplace? (This question is largely rhetorical in light of the self-inflicted points listed above.) Why do frum people, even Yeshivish, have to rely on the frum community to hire, train, and pay them? Are people so narrow-minded that they ignore that getting a degree, getting a professional job in the general workforce with potential growth and progressions—and yes, remaining Torah observant and maintaining sedarim in learning is quite do-able? After all, before 30 years ago, it was a model that happened and worked quite well. Frum Jews had great work ethic, employment stability and had opportunities to effect Kiddush Hashem in the general professional workplace.

Somehow, the challenges of a Torah observant person being employed in the general workplace have been overblown in recent years. Consequently, an underskilled and underemployed workforce has emerged, with limited options. Then, the law of labor supply and demand take over.

There is a legitimate sentiment among frum employers that they might be reluctant to hire someone whom they cannot fire. Let’s take an example. Let’s say a frum business owner (we'll call him Chaim) decides to be nice and considers hiring 29 year old Moishie, previously in Yeshiva in Kollel exclusively to work as a Manager in his medical supply warehouse. (Let’s ignore the fact that Moishie has never supervised anyone other than the busboys at Camp Nearim in 2003 and doesn’t know Accounts Payable from Camp Nearim canteen order form.) Let’s assume that Moishie’s wife is a Teachers Aide at the local Bais Yaakov and they have 4 kids. It just so happens that Chaim sits next to Moishie’s father at the same table in the shtiebel and they have invited each other to simchas over the past 10 years. Given Moishie’s limited experience, skill set, familiarity with technolony and no experience in managing others, there is a high probablility he will fail working as a Manager in Chaim's warehouse. While Moishie is failing, he is a headache for Chaim, and has decreased the morale of his workers, So, even after Chaim attends the Matzav asifa and guilt trip, why would he want to take a chance on hiring Moishie (and probably paying him far in excess of his relative market value) with all of this baggage?

I also think that there is a sense of entitlement today where the Moishies of the community feel entitled to being paid a living wage (defined as Moishie and his wife see it) once they leave Kollel. After all, they have followed “the script” to a ‘t’. Furthermore, it is presumptuous for the Moishies to ignore the level of risk that business owners are taking in their small companies, and the families that the Chaims of the world need to support as well. Back to our story, Moishie is now stuck, at age 29, with little probability that he can ever ultimately get a job outside of the benevolence of the frum community.

The current economic and employment situation should be a logical wake-up call to the Rabbanim seated on the dais at this gathering to promote those options for eduation and training which would ultimately open up more options for frum young people to enter the workforce and maintain stability there. There needs to be a shift away from badmouthing real college degrees (perhaps from commuter schools like Brooklyn and Queens, or Touro and YU), overrating the value of Yeshiva degrees, and overblowing the spiritual challenges of the workplace. Anyone with any intellectual honesty knows that many of these same challenges exist today, even if one is learning in Yeshiva full-time.

Many of the middle age employees who have worked exclusively within the frum community have not accrued the skills, current technology, experience, work habits, and self-presentation that would allow them to compete for professional jobs, of the likes that will provide them with not only better salaries, but deferred compensation and healthcare which are not necessarily provided by smaller Jewish-owned companies. Once again, that is a relatively new development.


Orthonomics said...

I will be the first to comment on the Guest Post.

I too believe the challenges of working in the outside world are overblown. One of the challenges I hear talked about is lashon hara in the workplace. I have to say, from having worked both on the outside and the inside and volunteer work, that in my opinion, the challenges in this area are far more than on the outside.

Please, no one, make the entire comment thread about one issue. Thanks.

Jackie said...

I would just like to point out that a college degree is not a cure all. I graduated from Trinity College, a small, well regarded liberal arts college in 2009. I had a good GPA, was involved in many different activities as well as having work experience. I could not find a job-I worked for Americorps for a year and am now running my own embroidery business (, which is slow off the ground. I'm not the only one of my friends who was unable to find something. The new solution-go to grad school, just postponing the problem.
While I agree that the isolation of orthodox Jews does them no favors in the job market, I'm not sure that sending everyone to college is the solution either. And this is how I feel about the drive to increase college attendance among the secular population as well.

JS said...

The guest post kind of says it all - it's a real problem when frum people seek out jobs only in the frum community. There are only so many jobs and so much money to go around. Someone has to be bringing in money from the "outside."

It's funny, but this kind of makes me feel the same way as the previous post even though the previous post was horrific in its extremism - I just don't feel a connection to people that believe that the outside world is dangerous and to be avoided and we must remain cloistered or that education is evil and doing anything other than sitting on one's tuchus learning on someone else's dime is worthless.

I believe in having a strong secular education and working hard to be self-sufficient - and I believe that applies to both men and women. People who don't share these values - whether Jewish or non-Jewish - are necessarily alienated from me. Just because someone is an uneducated fool with a kippa on his head doesn't mean I feel any special kinship toward him.

So, yes, it's a huge problem. And yes, the problem needs to be worked on, but it's not MY problem and it's not MY community's problem. And in raising my kids, I'll make darn certain they don't look up to these types of people as being especially pious and worthy of praise.

Just a quick note on the post itself: not sure if it was intentional or not, but I found it interesting that the hypothetical "Moishie" is immediately given a management job instead of a job on the warehouse floor. It's really just too perfect as the people I have encountered like Moishie would never take the warehouse job - it's beneath them. They need a respectable job, one that is fitting for a Ben Torah!

Miami Al said...


It's NOT a cure all.

But the unemployment rate amongst college gradutes is about half to one third the rate of non graduates. (2:1 for high school grads, 3:1 for non-high school grads).

Look, graduating in a deep recession is terrible luck, and leaves you in trouble. However, over the long run, there is a HUGE economic disparity, even in the recession, between college graduates and non-graduates.

Had you graduated in 2007 or 2008, you wouldn't be having this problem.

That's awful luck, but doesn't change the pattern.

Orthonomics said...

Jackie-I agree with you about the push towards college and think many would be better served by learning a vocation or finding their passions through on the job work.

However, we have a unique issue of am emerging degree market. We have young people who are "Clepping" (yes, it can be used as a verb) their way through school. They lack the access to internships, career fairs for new recruits, and career counseling that those who go a more traditional route have access to.

Our high schools also don't have much, if any, vocational. So we do have a bit of an issue.

And even "small fries" like me, get asked if I can help someone (i.e. employ someone) for something. I can't because I need the work I have and I can't risk my own clientele. There is a fear of stepping out of the comfort zone. And yet there is so much to be learned and even if one returns to work in the community later, their skills will only be enhanced.

Ok, have to run.

Adrienne said...

What is "Clepping"?

David said...

College isn't the be-all and end-all. There is a HUGE difference in employability between a BA in English and a BS in Engineering, for example.

However, we should *absolutely* be encouraging folks to work "outside" because if we do not, we are liable to fall into mercantilist zero-sum thinking, and run the risk of shrinking the capital pool in the community.

With regard to the OP, I disagree that Moishe can't "ever ultimately get a job outside the benevolence..." - ever is a long time, and the bigger issue is not that he can't get a job (because Home Depot is always hiring), but rather that he can't get a job which both pays well and conveys a desireable status upon the worker. The solution to this is that he must be willing to truly start at the bottom and learn something - this is a painful moment for many people, where he would have to realize that no matter how many Blatt of Gemara he has learned, he has not learned marketable skills. The level of effort required to learn marketable skills is the same as learning Gemara, but they are disjoint.

Anonymous said...

Nice guest post!

Anonymous said...

"clepping" = taking College Level Exams (CLEPs). It is a method of testing out of a course to "prove" competence. Some schools give credit for them, the majority of larger schools consider them for exemptions but no longer give credit.

YU stopped providing credit in the mid-90's. I do not know if they still accept them for exemptions, i.e. to get out of a pre-requisite, in order to take a higher level class.

Ezzie said...

Great post.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Guest Poster hit the nail on the head with this. Of course, no one will say that having a secular college degree is a guarantee for occupational success. After all, there are many entrepreneurs and business people within the frum community and outside of it who have been very successful and millionaires. But, it is as someone commented, about playing the percentages—in this job market or in any job market. And those who CLEP and get online degrees, while they might technically be coming out of the endeavor with a degree that might even be legally accredited, that is besides the point. What else besides this degree is on the resume that will grab attention for a private sector or government job, especially when there are resumes of people in the pile who have already done that job?! Is there any recognizable job experience that would indicate portable technical or people skills? What is the objective value of a “Bachelors degree in Talmudic Studies” and have the granting Yeshivas tracked occupational success rates of graduates who have those degrees? Because the answers to these questions are less than compelling, people tend to remain within their comfort zone of working frum employers where the jobs are more accessible. As such, they are often underemployed or underpaid relative to what they might have been capable of if they went about it in the old-fashioned way. Instead, they are relying on either no degree or a short-cut one to get them through life.

RW but sad said...

For all the talk about not getting College degrees, we now have an entire (sub)culture of Ortho Jews not getting HS degrees. Shocking as it sounds, the vast VAST majority of ortho jewish males living in Lakewood NJ are not getting HS degrees. Employable as 29 year olds? I would say "impossible".

Avi said...

I recently hired someone for an entry level analyst position. This position is the ideal first job out of college. It doesn't require specific experience, but does require strong analytical skills, experience with data management and manipulation, and exceptional communications skills (written, verbal, and presentation). I had 50 resumes to look at the day I posted an ad, and I ended up going with an Economics major from an extremely strong state school who had relevant part time work experience.

You know how you get this type of job? By going to a good college that teaches these skills, getting real world work experience, and then interviewing with a humble yet hungry demeanor. CLEPs and online degree doesn't prove any of those qualities (they don't disprove it either, but given the choice, employers will look at the better risks first). Learning gemara does provide analytical skills, but it is not directly applicable to analyzing business models and product competitiveness. Learning gemara provides no training in data management, or strong written or verbal communication - and may actually make verbal communication worse (I don't care how appropriate "kal va'chomer" may be, my clients do not understand Yeshivish).

Mike S said...

My son graduated with a degree in Actuarial Mathematics, has passed some actuarial exams, has some internship and temp experience and has a hard time getting interviews, much less a job. Times are very tough in many fields even for college graduates in practical subjects willing to relocate to parts of the country with little or no Jewish community if that is what it takes.

Mike S. said...

"Lashon Hara in the workplace"??? Sure, I am exposed to some, but far less than in shul, Rachamana litzlan.

Granted, I did not grow up in a very sheltered environment, but I have not found particular challenges working in the broader community. Yes, early in my career I worked some weird hours making up for chagim, and I have had to pay for the occasional $40 diet soda and banana when I had to attend some obligatory social at a conference where I couldn't get kosher food (although I often can.)
I have generally found that both employers and customers are reasonable when I am.

Avi said...

I'm not sure that lashon hara is the biggest deal, but if you talk to our RW brethren, this is the argument you get (particularly from young adults in yeshiva/kollel): Yes, but there *are* challenges to frumkeit in the working world. You are exposed to people and ideas that are different from yours - a lot of frum people are genuinely scared of this interaction. Why "test" yourself? You will be asked - nicely, usually - to explain your own practices and beliefs. What if you can't? What if they make fun of you? There will be times when you are around people who are eating non-kosher food, and you can't - why put yourself in that situation if you don't have to? You will work with women who have breasts under their clothing, and this may cause impure thoughts. There may be times when you can't shut down early and prepare with serenity for Shabbos. Torah learning is the most important thing in the universe - why would you take a job where you will have to "squeeze in" time to learn? While all goyim aren't disgusting drug using, wife-beating, cursing sex maniacs out to corrupt us, some surely are! Why would any sane frum person seek employment in this type of environment?

Our Rabbinic leadership needs to inculcate a different attitude: whatever happened to ohr lagoyim? How strong is your emunah if it can't withstand the "test" of explaining basic Jewish concepts to non-Jews (who, in the business world, tend to be curious, pluralistic, and spectacularly receptive). Jews interacted with non-Jews for centuries - even gedolai ha'dor. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced this will happen, since the RW leadership does not seem to believe this themselves.

Anonymous said...

SOS! I know this is slightly off topic (sorry, but it's an emergency). Who should I inform that my nephew's Lakewood cheder is not teaching the 7th graders
Social Studies, Science, or History? They learn only math, spelling and reading. My nephew has only a vague idea who Abraham Lincoln is. He doesn't know there are 50 states. He is ignorant of the Civil War. He never heard of Thomas Jefferson. He only knows that Hashem made the sky and the grass and that's why they are blue and green, respectively.

He has never, I repeat never, learned history, science, or social studies. He went on a class trip to Washington but has only the vaguest idea of what happens in the Capitol - there are a lot of statues. This is a bright Jewish boy, who is being deprived of an education.

Who should I turn to? I know the name of the school, its address and its principal. Its educational policies are the same as all Lakewood schools. What shall I do?

His older brothers are in dire straits, too, barely able to read and depending on overburdened wives and government programs. I am sick with grief.

You all can bury your heads, it's not your problem, and talk about policy, but I am living with this.

conservative scifi said...


You could inform the child's parents. If they are, in fact, aware of this failing, then the responsibility for their child rests on them.

On topic, as a reasonably well paid professional with advanced degrees, I would actually cut some slack on the educational front. While I absolutely agree that the surest way to financial stability is with higher education, the true go-getters will succeed anyway.

That is, I am motivated to achieve success, but I don't have that drive or willingness to sacrifice my life, time with wife and children, etc., to be a multimillionaire. The go-getter who has that drive, even without some of the education, is probably likely to achieve equal or greater success. I have a good friend who is very wealthy but not due to a college education, but rather very very hard work (and sales talent).

That said, most of these 29 year olds will not be in a position to work 18 hour days in pursuit of wealth because they will have wives and more kids than I do.
Of course, most also probably don't have the drive for success, else they would be the talmud chacham and able to get the job of Rabbi at a congregation.

Anonymous said...

Parents are well aware. That's why they live in Lakewood - so their children will be in a Litvish yeshiva environment like in Europe before the war, without outside influences.

Like me.

Mark said...

There's a very good reason for Moishe not to want to work inside the community. People inside the community talk ... a lot. So, if he is lazy, or just a screw-up, or just can't handle the job, word will quickly get around. And before you know it, he will be out of a job and nobody in the community will ever hire him again. He should save working for someone in the community as a last resort after having exhausted his search for work outside the community.

Female life actuary said...

On the issue of Lakewood schools, a few years ago my husband was just as sickened as you are and actually called the New Jersey Dept of Education who told him while they have a suggested curriculum, they do not have any control over what a private school teaches (or doesn't).
I don't know who else you can call, it seems it is the parents choice to keep the children ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing, female life actuary. It's very sad, but I must distance myself from it. I gained chizuk from knowing I'm not the only one who is concerned about Lakewood cheders.

Dan.Eliot said...

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Staffing Supplier said...

In my opinion the schooling and College system needs a complete revamp and makeover, and inculcate the modern day issues and subjects.

Chaim said...

A large part of the problem is the belief that a person can know EVERYTHING through learning Torah. That has created an attitude in which learning boys are, by definition, successful in whatever career they pursue. It also has served to devalue secular leaning.

This lack of employability has created another problem, a bloated, redundant Orthodox organizational structure whose main purpose is to provide jobs and kavod to unemployable Rabbis (and their families). That structure is NOT sustainable, and has been a major drain on communal resources.

We all seem to agree that ‘Moishe” cant run a warehouse, BUT, communally, we allow the Moishes to run multi-million dollar institutions with NO oversight! That’s insanity.

Anonymous said...

And when the Moishies of the world run the warehouse and don't know what they are doing, they sometimes make mistakes of the magnitude that results in their picture ending up in the full-page Pidyon Shevuyim ads.

Nephew of Female Life Actuary said...

Mike S.

From what I understand, the job market for Actuaries is good, perhaps your son didn't interview well (or has some other issue)? Or like you said, try outside of NYC, like Chicago, Hartford or Boston.

The biggest issue of this post is what is Moishe going to do with the rest of his life if he doesn't get such a job, which is why you have lifetime Kollel men who don't belong there, but can't afford to give it up.

Anonymous said...

As alluded to in the comment above, another limiting factor for the Moishies of the world is that Moishie and his family have to live within an hour's drive of his parents and in-laws (preferably within a 15 min. walk). But, I guess better to be underemployed or unemployed within that radius than have to live in Harford, Houston, Milwaukee or any other place "out-of-town" where the ratio of frum people to sheitel-machers might be greater than 20:1.

AztecQueen2000 said...

I take exception to those who disparage CLEPs. When I went to college (granted that was back in 1998), I CLEPed out of more than half of my freshman year. However, I was more than prepared to handle both upper-division and graduate work at a brick-and-mortar state university. CLEPs serve the same purpose as AP exams, yet no one speaks negatively about those. And, no, unless you are attending some sort of diploma mill, no college will allow a student to test out of an entire degree.

niece of female life actuary said...

Agree with above. I was able to cut out a year of college utilizing CLEPs. I have a doctorate degree.

Anonymous said...

I just learned of two full time job openings in my Manhattan company. Could anyone give me the website of a non-profit Jewish employment organization that posts jobs?

Anonymous said...

The OU Job Board and NCYIJOBS on Yahoo Groups. Also

Mark said...

Chaim - We all seem to agree that ‘Moishe” cant run a warehouse, BUT, communally, we allow the Moishes to run multi-million dollar institutions with NO oversight! That’s insanity.

This is a very good point!

Female life actuary said...

The reason you don't see the AP exams disparaged like CLEPs are is because of 2 factors.

1. The AP exams are much more rigorous that the CLEP exams and also more difficult than the college courses they replace.

2. AP exams are taken at the end of a real life class, with a teacher, albeit in HS instead of college.

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew how to post two legal secretary jobs in my law firm in midtown Manhattan. Does anyone knows of an experienced legal secretary who wants to work full time? I work in the firm and my administrator has asked staff to get the word out. Since this forum is about employment opportunities, here are two jobs available.

Thinking said...

As the head of recruiting for a mid-sized company based in NY I can unfortunately say that that I have not received even one qualified candidate from the any of the frum job assistance programs. We hired 60 people in 2010 and will probably hire 60 more in 2011. The jobs are of various levels (entry through VP) and roles (sales, technology, marketing, finance). I desperately tried to get some frum people in house but the hiring managers would not even give the resumes a second look. And no, they had no idea that the frum resumes were any different than any other sources.

3 issues I am seeing.
1. Lack of quality education. On an entry level resume, no one knows how smart you are. So they are bound to want to interview a NYU, Columbia, Fordham or even city college grad over some combo yeshiva/FDU degree.

2. Continuing Education. For a mid-level hire we want to see that employees have more than just work experience. They have to continue to develop skills and understand the latest technologies, methodologies etc. Never stop your education.

3. Salary. Frum employees typically want more than we are offering. As much as i would like to hire them, it is hard to justify. My advice is to take a lower salary, prove yourself and you should be able to get what you want (I have personally experienced this).

I have been fortunate to hire several frum people over the past 2 years. The common denominator, their resume looks like everyone else that we hire's, not like some of the one's I get from Agudah, EPI etc.

Anonymous said...

I received resumes from frum job banks for job openings in our firm, a nonfrum firm in Manhattan which pays well (meaning competitively) with excellent benefits. I could not forward those resumes to our firm human resources administrator. Why? Because the experience in our field was light or spotty, because we were looking for specific computer ability that the resumes did not list. One resume from a frum woman in Brooklyn used the word "stuff" in her resume and there were grammar mistakes. She did not have the experience working in our type of firm, though the nature of the firm was listed in the job posting. I wrote her back that she should try to get her foot in the door at a smaller firm then work her way up.

I tried to recruit from frum job boards, but so far I do not see the quality. The schooling and the work background isn't the same. Here's who they are competing with:

I accidentally ran into a woman I recognized from a previous job, who had 12 years experience in a major company that matched our openings perfectly. She was laid off 2 years ago and she told me with tears in her eyes that her unemployment insurance was coming to an end. She had offered prayers at the Vatican. She was an Italian Catholic and I immediately saw she was smart and personable. A high school graduate with a later college degree in a non-technical field. I gave her the firm administrator's email and phone, and that night she emailed him her resume and cover letter, which were excellent, years of experience in a company like ours only larger and more demanding.

Her English skills were also perfect, not a word misused, very articulate.

How can I pass on resumes of unqualified frum people? We need ability in our firm, or all our jobs will be harder, teaching well meaning frum people who have a high learning curve.

I immediately called my niece who has three small boys and told her this story. She is planning to give her children supplemental English training at home because as she said, "I've given up on the Lakewood schools." If any chareidi people are looking at this blog, please take this story seriously as far as your children's secular education is concerned. They are not competitive in the nonfrum world.

Zaramart said...

The problem is what is your son going to do the rest of his life? Studying the Torah for the rest of his life is not a solution. He has to find a way to do both. He can still wear a kippa
and go to pray every morning and then go to work.