Emigres Flood Israeli Job Market
Thousands of new professionals spur debate over how to create jobs in state-based economy
EACH year, after much study and many exams, Israeli medical schools graduate 280 doctors.In just one week last December, 300 arrived from the Soviet Union. There are in Israel some 12,000 PhDs, spread among universities and businesses. By 1995, if current immigration predictions hold up, they will be outnumbered more than three-to-one by their Soviet colleagues. Musicians, managers, scientists, artists, engineers in the tens of thousands, dentists, professors, laboratory technicians, and teachers are pouring into Israel in an extraordinarily unbalanced wave of immigration made up more than 75 percent by professionals.Skip to next paragraph
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Reservoir of skills If this enormous pool of skills can be properly tapped, it represents a reservoir of economic possibilities unmatched in Israel's history. But as they step off the planes day by day, the disproportionate number of highly educated immigrants is worrying planners who have little idea of how to employ them gainfully. Crouching on the roof of a half-completed apartment block, hammer in hand, under the glaring sun, Vladimir Sushinsky is a case in point. A sports doctor in the Soviet Union, he has decided that, "It is impossible to work as a doctor here now; there are too many doctors from the USSR and, anyway, there is not much sport in Israel." Rather than choose another line of work, Dr. Sushinsky now works 11 hours a day as an unskilled building laborer to earn the money he hopes will take him to the United States - and a job to match his professional talents. "The government was slow to realize that employment is the one issue that will determine if this historic process is a success or a failure," says Mikhail Kleiner, head of the Israeli parliament's Aliyah and Absorption committee. "The principal problem of the next few years," echoed the Bank of Israel in a recent report, "is the creation of 600,000 jobs ... starting at a time when Israel is experiencing its highest-ever unemployment rate." How to meet that challenge is a subject of keen debate over how large a role the state should play. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's right-wing government is ideologically inclined to lay the burden on private enterprise. The Central Bank report, too, stressed that "absorption of the additional manpower into the public services is to be avoided.... Economic policy must ensure that most of the labor increment is absorbed by the business sector." But there are doubts whether Israel's business sector is vital enough, or could find enough capital, to grow as fast as would be required. And Israel's traditionally state-oriented economy remains unfamiliar territory to foreign businessmen who have still to be convinced that this is profitable ground for investment. Reservations about the private sector's ability to employ all the newcomers have prompted calls for the government to step in as it has often done in the past. "Zionism has never been a program of profitability," argues Uri Gordon, head of the Aliyah department at the Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental group. "This is a moral question, not an economic question." Even if the government does step in, however, the task will not be simple, economists warn. "Stronger countries than Israel have found the business of creating jobs very difficult to tackle artificially," Kleiner points out. "The last time it was done on this scale was the New Deal." New Deal-type proposals abound, and the Finance Ministry plans to invest nearly $800 million over the next year to build and improve roads, railways, water and sewage systems, and energy plants. Calls have been heard for the government to lay a railway all the way to Eilat, on the Red Sea, to build desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast, to massively expand the country's road system, and even to dig a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea along which hydroelectric stations would be placed. Such huge projects, however, would take at least two years to get under way. And in the meantime, Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai has been reduced to suggesting that big firms, many of them state-owned, be obliged to take on 50,000 workers, whether needed or not, whose wages the government would pay. This plan has not been adopted, nor has any other comprehensive approach to the problem.