Inquire Within: Lauder Employment Center Connects Student Interns with Employers

By: Eric Narrow

jnf wire
“Experience Required.” Those are two words plaguing millennial college graduates seeking gainful and meaningful employment in today’s workplace. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “Many employers believe recent college graduates are underdeveloped in key workplace skills like interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and organization.” A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania found that nearly all jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher also have significant work experience requirements, typically averaging four to five years of relevant work experience. For students at Ben-Gurion University, this may pose as a very real impediment for graduates aspiring to build a life and career in Israel’s Negev.  

Established in 1969 to help promote the development of the Negev, today Ben-Gurion University is a world-renowned academic institution, one that is celebrated for its excellence in technical and engineering degree programs. However, according to Ronald S. Lauder, chairman of the board-emeritus of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF), "a large segment of university graduates do not remain in the Negev after the completion of their studies due to a lack of challenging jobs." But Lauder has hope, and a solution. "This reality can be changed through an employment horizon and employment opportunities that we will offer graduates, in cooperation with industry and business leaders." The solution came in 2015 when JNF opened the Lauder Employment Center in Be’er Sheva. The Center operates with the explicit objective to help build the local economy and provide new opportunities for graduates to build their careers and lives in the Negev.  

In early November, the Lauder Employment Center proudly hosted the inaugural graduating cohort of the Next Step Internship Program, a social initiative aimed at bridging the worlds of academia and employment by applying students’ specialties in their last year of studies. The group consisted of 10 students from the local technical college who participated in a three month, part-time internship with leading companies in the Negev, including SodaStream, Netafim, Negev Jobs, Web Media,, the Be’er Sheva Municipality, Maklev, and Epstein. Each employer offered the students training and guidance, while the Center provided six group sessions with a career counselor.  

Three of the students have already been offered full-time employment with SodaStream, Web Media, and Intel, all located in the Negev. "This is a historic period for the Negev and for you—the employers and interns—who are taking part in this initiative,” said JNF Chief Israel Officer Eric Michaelson at the graduation ceremony. “Companies are moving to the Negev and there is a tremendous opportunity for you to take advantage and benefit from this, both on the career and personal level,” he added.

Most of the students are Negev natives, so Next Step has provided them with an unprecedented opportunity to remain close to their home communities while building lucrative and exciting professional careers. For Karin Hajij, a software engineering student, her internship with Negev Jobs provided her a practical understanding of her studies in the workplace, while also learning more about herself in the process and increasing her self-confidence for when she begins interviewing for jobs following her studies. "I really had an opportunity to understand my field," shared Dorian Hajbi, a mechanical engineer who interned with SodaStream. "There are certain skills the working world is looking for that you just cannot learn in the classroom."  

While each member of the cohort had their own unique experience, they all shared the same sense of accomplishment and confidence in their ability to establish their careers in the Negev following the completion of the program. "There are remarkable companies in the Negev propelling the economy forward, and there is high-quality human capital available—we just need to make the connection between them," said Michaelson. "By doing this, we can show the residents of the Negev, and the entire country, all the prospects that exist here. We need to showcase and highlight these successes."

Indeed, the success of this program demonstrates significant growth and strength for the greater Be'er Sheva community, bringing together employers, community leaders, students, and organizations, and serves as model in realizing David Ben-Gurion's dream of developing the Negev.

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