Only 16.3% of Israelis with disabilities are university graduates, compared to 29.4% of Israelis without disabilities. Furthermore, government data indicates that the employment rates of university and college graduates with disabilities aged 25 to 64 reaches 74.3% as opposed to 88.2% among academics without disabilities. The Siftach program is designed to ease the passage from the ivory tower to the workplace by providing in-depth mentoring and employment opportunities commensurate with participants’ skills and education.
Despite the increased number of people with disabilities in higher education and vocational training programs, their participation in the workforce is still limited. Based on examples from other countries, JDC-Tevet concluded that a unique service is needed to ease the entry of people with all kinds of disabilities into the labor force. Siftach, Hebrew slang for “a successful beginning”, is designed to provide these students and graduates with tools for workforce integration, to develop comprehensive services in the move from academia to the world of work, and to generate commitment on the part of academic institutions to graduates’ employment.
The program, launched in 2016, aims to help students with disabilities in their last year of higher education or soon after graduation to connect with future employers. As many people with disabilities do not participate in Israel’s mandatory military service, these students lack the professional networking that often develops in the army. Limited mobility may make networking even harder. They usually have not had summer jobs or any part time work experience, which further limits their chances of securing a position.
The program for academics with disabilities works with six academic institutions across Israel under the direct responsibility of their student deans. Dedicated program coordinators at each institution’s career counseling center assess each student’s needs and provide resources for them to find work upon graduation.
These include internships to help participants gain work experience and build their resume; mentoring by local employers who want to help people with disabilities; individual counseling to bolster confidence and develop interview skills; and activities and workshops for the entire student body to raise awareness of students with disabilities.
Siftach provides help in finding professional student work for participants and entry-level positions for recent graduates. Just as importantly, it helps place participants in unpaid or paid internships in their fields of study (law, accountancy, teaching), accompanying them and enabling them to obtain experience and develop the networking needed for their career development.
What’s Special about this Program?
All too often, university graduates with disabilities are unable to find work in their field of study for a variety of logistical and societal reasons. Siftach seeks to address the issue by identifying people with disabilities while they’re still at college or university, and counseling, guiding and mentoring them so that they can translate their studies into relevant and satisfying employment. The program also seeks to develop a more inclusive climate toward people with disabilities at academic institutions and among employers.
Shmuel, 34, was a third-year law student at the Ono Academic College when he joined Siftach. Since being involved in a serious traffic accident nine years ago, he can only get around in a wheelchair or on crutches.
Initially, he was placed in an unpaid internship in the legal department of a construction company. It was an opportunity for him to acquire experience and perhaps continue working there with pay in the future. The company adapted its facilities to his needs, buying him a special chair and enlarged computer screen.
Shmuel knew about the obstacles ahead but was single-minded in his determination to overcome them. “If I target a certain place, I will get there even if I have to crawl,” he said.
The Siftach coordinator mentored Shmuel in work search skills and preparations for job interviews. Together they decided to examine the type of adaptations he would require at work and discussed what to ask the employer for and at what stage. A coordinator of support technologies at the college’s support and access center was also involved in this process.
At the same time, Siftach worked with the Ministry of Justice's Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities on adapting the selection and integration process of the jobs to which Shmuel was applying.
Shmuel’s drive, charisma and simulations and preparations, along with the support he received on all fronts, paid off. He is currently employed in the economic department of the Ministry of Justice and says he is very satisfied. He wants to continue his internship there and progress to full-time employment in the same place.
The program consists of:
- Support in finding student work for participants, usually during their final school year, or work after graduation;
- Information sessions for students with disabilities on employment at academic institutions and in the marketplace;
- Work with college and university employment and support centers in initiating and organizing activities and staff training on issues relating to the employment of people with disabilities;
- Preparatory workshops for the world of work;
- Building up a system of internship opportunities for participants;
- Mentoring employers;
- Developing an employment model for people with disabilities within participating institutions.
The Program in Numbers
As of November 2017, 133 students had taken part in the program, 82 of them men, and 46% were placed in jobs.