LONDON (JTA) — Shraga Zaltzman has spent years building up his network of business contacts. So when a young man stepped into his London office last month looking for a job, despite having a relatively empty resume, Zaltzman was able to help.
Noticing that the man had taken a three-week course in invoice discounting, Zaltzman phoned a senior executive at General Electric. Within three days the man had a meeting and an unpaid internship in their invoicing department.
"Now he will have GE on his CV and if he does well, they won’t let him go," Zaltzman said. "The network is everything."
Zaltzman is an unusual business mentor. Like his six colleagues at TrainE-TraidE, a rapidly growing Jewish charity that helps Jews find employment and build businesses, he is haredi Orthodox. Many of those he serves are not.
In Israel, getting haredi Jews into the workplace is a pressing issue for the secular majority, which has grown concerned about the community’s drag on the national economy. But in Zaltzman’s organization the situation is often reversed, with the haredi staff shepherding hundreds of secular Jews into employment.
“I don’t see it as an irony," said Zaltzman, 36, the group’s managing director. "I’ve never viewed the Jewish community as ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ A significant part of the problem is that people pigeonhole each other too much. If we work together, it doesn’t make any difference.”
TrainE was set up in 2006 to provide vocational training specifically to Orthodox women. A registered charity, the organization does not charge for most of its services and the companies that hire its clients are asked only to make a donation.
In 2007, founding trustee Mark Morris brought in Zaltzman, a South Africa native who was educated at the prestigious Gateshead and Mir yeshivas who earned his master’s degree in business from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
At the time, Zaltzman was working as business development manager for a multinational distributor of telecommunications equipment. TrainE was appealing, he says, because he had always believed that "the highest level of tzedakah, or charity, is helping people to help themselves." He soon decided to broaden the charity’s target clientele.
"The idea that all the need is in the Orthodox community is a misconception," he said. "People think that all Jews are well connected and affluent, and it’s not true. It’s not all as green and leafy as people think."
Zaltzman aims to help clients find a job in which they can make a living, as opposed to a typical recruitment agency that serves the needs of its business clients. TrainE’s main services include career advice, resume writing and interview skills, arranging job placements and networking opportunities. The organization also runs a student internship program and a business incubation project. In 2011, it served 1,700 clients, up from 730 in 2009.
While demand has certainly increased due to the economic crisis, Zaltzman emphasizes that his is not a “recession business.”
“We started in 2006 when money seemed to be abundant,” he said. “People will always need these services."
One such group is new university graduates, who in the United Kingdom face an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, compared to a general unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. Together with the Union of Jewish Students, TrainE last year placed 86 students in internships across 54 companies ranging from multinationals to small firms.
"There is a lost generation of 18- to 25-year-olds who don’t get the work experience and opportunities they need," said Martin Leuw, a British businessman named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2006 and a strategic adviser to TrainE. "Shraga and his team are fantastic for this age group and beyond."
A Reform Jew, Leuw said he was very aware of Zaltzman’s religious affiliation, but that only made his work more appealing.
“They have a really broad perspective on what is needed for the whole community, and it’s refreshing," Leuw said.
Approximately 80 percent of the students in the internship program are not religious. They are, like Josh Fraser, looking for an advantage in a competitive job market.
Fraser, 21, who studies history and international politics at the University of Nottingham, said TrainE put him through a mock interview that was “brutal.” But the experience helped him find a place at the Jewish National Fund designing newsletters. Subsequently the organization helped him secure a part-time job running a social media campaign for a leadership training company.
"Not only is it extra income, it’s given me a leg up for my future career,” Fraser said. “I think all students would benefit from something similar."
In TrainE’s business incubation section, it seems to be a different story. More than a dozen men in white shirts and black velvet yarmulkes work out of TrainE’s offices on businesses as diverse as an events company, a rental agency and a social networking consultancy. In a back room, two Orthodox women in their early 20s are discussing plans to set up their own beauty businesses. They are working part-time in a salon that TrainE helped to set up recently to provide work experience for graduates of its beauty vocational training course.
"We’re learning how to promote products, how to sell, how to get customers into the salon," said Rifkoh Fonteign, 21, of Stamford Hill, a heavily Chasidic area of London. "We are gaining business skills, not just beauty skills."
Yet despite the religious distance between the organization and many of its beneficiaries, Zaltzman says there has never been friction with the people who walk through its doors. A religious Muslim eager to study in a modest environment once took one of TrainE’s vocational courses. One of the incubated businesses was a partnership between a Jew and a non-Jew.
"The need to make a living overcomes all barriers," Zaltzman said. "It’s not our primary objective, but to my personal satisfaction, a byproduct of the work we’re doing is that the community works better together. It’s a fantastic result."