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Fast Track to Parnassah

Riki Goldstein

Aramaic is not a programming language, but experts say a foundation in yeshivah learning can pay dividends in the job market. Where do skill sets from years on the kollel bench shine?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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TRANSFERABLE SKILLS “Programming is a very logical discipline and well suited to those who have spent time in learning,” says David Levine, the founder of Alef Beis Digital Academy. “It can be a very good parnassah, too”

W hen Zalman was ready to transition from kollel learning to work, he found a job stacking shelves at a local grocery.

“I had a cheder education. Basic arithmetic, basic English, no computer science.”

He worked there for three years, but in the little spare time that remained, he tinkered with household items and computer software, fascinated with how things really worked.

When he saw an advertisement for a computer programming course in his community in Manchester, he went to the “open evening.”

“What tempted me was that they said they would help find employment for all graduates,” he says.

After a test that assessed applicants’ power of logic and analytical skills, Zalman enrolled in a course that offered a foundation in different programming languages. The class met two evenings a week for a year, and Zalman was excited about his learning and progress.

“It was taught in a way that you could come in with zero knowledge, and exit ready for programming,” he recalls. “With the grounding offered by the course, I knew which coding languages attracted me the most. I followed free tutorials and online resources and got much further ahead than I could have on my own.”

When the course ended, true to their promise, the organizers actively networked and found most of the participants their first jobs in software development. Today, Zalman is employed at a logistics company as a software developer.

Without the opportunity offered by Alef Beis Digital Academy, Zalman would still be stacking shelves at minimum wage.

For many an avreich seeking employment, the big world of work looms both foreign and daunting. A “cheder to yeshivah to kollel” r?sum? won’t provide much of an entry to a professional career. At the same time, university degrees require huge financial commitment and unwanted exposure to a secular environment. In addition, a lack of English, math, and science skills all but prohibits entry for most cheder graduates to higher education.

But as many are finding out, there are options. Michlol in Israel, PCS in the Tristate area, and Alef Beis Digital Academy in England, are just some of the agencies that provide opportunities for men leaving kollel to find suitable and satisfying careers.

Applicants, usually fresh from the yeshivah benches, arrive at these training programs via word of mouth or carefully targeted advertising. Michlol advertisements are targeted at young men who are already working, or actively seeking employment.

“Those who are sitting and learning have our greatest respect. We never reach out to kollel yungeleit,” says Rabbi Aron Silber, employment counselor and educational advisor at the Michlol chassidic training resource center. “Our mission is for those who choose to work to do it right and be profitably employed, not struggling on minimum wage. We train and guide them, our expertise helping them find bekavodig jobs.”

David Levine, a software entrepreneur in Manchester, England, says he started the Alef Beis training course to give back to the community. “As an entrepreneur, I was having a lot of software developed in places like India and Pakistan. It crossed my mind that programming is a very logical discipline and well suited to those who have spent time in learning. It can be a very good parnassah, too. So together with a friend, we began the Alef Beis program. Local employers who have discovered our trainees are delighted with their caliber.”

Removing Barriers

A yungerman may assume that he is the only one among his neighbors worried about parnassah or entering the working world. In reality, though, how to make a living is on people’s minds across the world.

The administrator of one training institute recalls a telling incident. “I walked into the waiting room to greet a young kollel student. He was obviously embarrassed to be here: red-faced, voice lowered, and making very little eye contact.” When they walked back to his office, the would-be worker stated that he wanted to ensure that everything they discussed would be kept completely confidential.

“He explained that he didn’t want his chavrusa to find out about his visit to our offices, as he was afraid of losing him.”

To make him more comfortable, the administrator started to ask about his learning. It turned out that he knew who his chavrusa was. “In fact, his chavrusa had been in my office a few weeks earlier — with the same concerns regarding confidentiality. They were both thinking of professional training.”

“It isn’t like a train that you hop onto, and get delivered to the destination,” explains Tzvi Pirutinsky, a career counselor with PCS. “You need to be an active partner and work hard to be successful”

Even after the initial discomfort is dispensed with, Tzvi Pirutinsky — a clinical psychologist serving as career counselor at Professional Career Services (PCS), a division of Agudath Israel in Lakewood, New Jersey, as well as assistant professor of social work at Touro College — emphasizes that job-seekers shouldn’t think that taking a course is a guarantee to a high-paying career.

“It isn’t like a train that you hop onto, and get delivered to the destination,” Pirutinsky says. “You need to be an active partner and work hard to be successful.”

He lists some guidelines he says are keys to success in the early stages. “One, it takes time. Developing a career is a five- to seven-year process. Two, you don’t get paid based on what you need, but based on the skill set and experience you develop. Three, to build a career, you need to take risks and get involved in the outside world. Simply thinking about it will not lead to a better outcome. Four, don’t join a course until you are committed.”

Eliezer Grossman of Michlol sees a gulf in mentality even among the young men he deals with. “A yungerman who is 30 has some life experience, and more self-knowledge. His expectations tend to be more realistic. The 20-year-olds can often overrate their own abilities and earning potential. They have to learn to focus on their actual credentials and talents in order to chart their course to potential success.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 653)

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