Chaim Fox-Emmett founded the Israemploy amuta (Israeli charity) in 2002 as a mailing list broadcasting Israeli job listings in English. In March 2006 after a year in development, his team replaced the mailing list with Israemploy.net, a website containing a wealth of services for job seekers and employers. This is the Part 1 of the 2-part JobMob interview.
What drove you to found Israemploy?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: The original idea was borne out of frustrations that I observed amongst many olim, especially those who I'd sensed some kind of a marginalization, by language, by age, by disability, by all the things that prevent people from entering the normal workplace. One afternoon I read about an employment-related suicide. When I investigated, I discovered that it wasn't a lone event. There were many such cases.
There were many (mailing) lists out there, almost petty in nature, like ‘I need a babysitter' or ‘who's driving to Jerusalem', and I thought that surely we could use this medium for a far more powerful form of networking. Many people at that time were going back (i.e. leaving Israel), the reverse aliyah rate was quite high in 2001-2002. I created a list of my own, and within hours the mails started coming in. Within days it was hundreds. As of today we have about 15000 active accounts and probably closer to 25000 people have actually used the service. We operated on a simple listserv until this time last year, and the planning to build our own website probably began about 2 years ago. Operating on a shoestring budget, we were able to put out something very impressive. At the moment we're experiencing somewhere in the region of 1500 unique visits per day and we're in the top 2500 sites in Israel. About 10% of our traffic is from abroad and probably all are potential olim.
What is Israemploy like as an organization?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: It's a completely virtual environment, although we do respond to inquiries or requests for advice – we get about 30-50 per day – which we try and give as much personal service as we can. We don't over-encourage it because we don't have the resources. If we get calls and people track us down, as they do manage to, we will respond. Those people working with us are volunteers and we have volunteers all over the world.
What is it like managing so many volunteers? Is turnover a problem or have people stayed on since the beginning?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: A number of volunteers have been with us since Day 1, and of course there are a few transient ones. People essentially do what they can, and they may slow down or their interest wanes a little, maybe they go quiet for a few months and then want to come back on board. All sorts of things happen, but the nice thing is that we have people who have not yet made aliyah who are helping people who are already here (in Israel). We have people in South Africa, in England, in America either entering data or doing Internet research because they feel it helps their own goals, but they're quite effective helping people who are here, which is wonderful.
Which frustrations does Israemploy try to address?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: Without doubt, the greatest effort anyone can give themselves, before they make aliyah, is to start learning Hebrew. Don't rely on the Ulpan system, which is very limited and in fact is often counterproductive, in that people come here and spend the first few months in Ulpan when in actual fact they would be far better getting work as quickly as they can, even if it's not the job they're looking for. Once you've got one foot on the ladder, and you're in the system, you have a better chance of improving. Too many people come here a) without having attempted to learn Hebrew and b) even thinking that they can find a job without any Hebrew. In other words, they say ‘I want a job where I will speak English'. That immediately sets into motion the concept that the only limitations a person has are those they've set themselves. And if you're only going to look for jobs where you can speak English, you're limiting the jobs available to you. Also, many people don't realize that many jobs appearing to require Hebrew do require English as well.
What do you consider to be Israemploy's main successes?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: Giving people hope. The very first thing that people tell us is ‘the fact that you're out there, the fact that we're getting information almost daily about opportunities, tells us that there's every good reason to believe that our boat will come in'. There's going to be something, and if it's not their first choice, it'll be their second choice. That's a success story in itself because it has been reported back to us numerous times that people thought about leaving but said ‘no, there are organizations such as Israemploy that give us a reason to want to stay'. Secondly, we know that we have successfully placed several thousand people in jobs. We don't count them because if we count them, it means that we're not spending enough time placing more people.
The name Israemploy implies ‘Israel-centric'. Would you consider expanding outside the country?
Chaim Fox-Emmett: The model would be easy to replicate in any environment that we wanted to serve, either as a Jewish-focused employment resource or even a general employment resource but it's not something that we feel ready to do. It's a question of where we want to focus our efforts. We want to help people in Israel, and we want to encourage people to come to Israel. They shouldn't be frightened to come for lack of employment. If you come, you will find work if you go about it the right way.