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Returning to the sources with Mekorot

CM 26/08/2021

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“I first visited Israel in 2019 on Birthright, and since then, it has been clear to me my future is in Israel,” says Mark Israeli, who immigrated to Israel alone and joined the program. 
“I started looking for projects for engineers, and I discovered that a new project was opened in collaboration with Mekorot, which provides engineers the opportunity to be absorbed as employees within the company. I immediately realized that this was what I was looking for and that I would not find a better opportunity.”
“My wife and I are engineers, and we always wanted to advance and develop further. We considered moving to a country in the West,” relates Ivan Shilo, who immigrated with his family from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) several months ago. “We learned that immigrants and professionals were offered absorption assistance. We checked the ads, and when we discovered the project with Mekorot, we had no doubt that this was exactly what we were looking for.”

Project “Returning to the Sources” (Israel’s national water company is called Mekorot, and the Hebrew word mekorot also means “sources”) was created as a collaboration between Mekorot, the national water company, the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Economy. The goal is to locate immigrants with academic backgrounds among Diaspora Jewry, including electrical engineers, civil engineers and infrastructure engineers, assist their absorption process and integrate them into engineering positions in the company. Immigrants receive an extensive absorption basket and study in an Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language course, for six months. Despite the challenges of corona, the vetting process was launched in August 2020, and last April, the first four workers in the field of electrical engineering and civil engineering were added to the company.
“The idea for the project came from company management, headed by CEO Eli Cohen, and together with the Jewish Agency, we initiated a joint process that both helps immigrants and also addresses the needs of Mekorot,” explains Asher Ben-Shushan, VP of Human Resources and director at Mekorot. 
“There is a shortage of engineers, and this initiative is one of several designed to address the problem.”
The shortage of professional workers has increased in the last decade around the world, and the demand has grown accordingly. In Israel, the demand has focused primarily in the hi-tech, medical and industrial fields. In the last two years, there has also been a huge demand for employees from the hotel and tourism sector and heavy truck operators.
“This is a well-known national problem,” says Ben-Shushan, “and we are trying to maximize our activities to produce a response to meet the needs. This project joins both the national and societal values of encouraging immigration, creating a win-win situation. We have a shortage of electrical civil engineers in infrastructure and drilling. The demand exceeds supply, so there is a shortage in the market.”

How is the recruitment and location of engineers accomplished in their countries of origin?

“We got the project underway last year, and together with the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption, we formulated the outline, which we called ‘Returning to the Sources,’” explains Ben-Shushan. “Despite the challenges of corona, midway through 2020, we began a regulated process that included a description of the needs and jobs, distributing them at immigration fairs abroad, conducting interviews and screening and advocacy processes that included Jewish Agency envoys in communities as well as Mekorot representatives. Those selected received an absorption basket, joined the Ulpan, were later integrated into the Mekorot workforce, and were accompanied by a team on behalf of the company, which provides professional personal support, including regular contact, being hosted for Jewish holidays, professional tours and more. To date, four workers have arrived – three electrical engineers and one civil engineer – and we hope that this is just the beginning. We are currently working on the absorption of academics, including water-drilling engineers from around the world. This is an added value for government companies and the state, which is designed to create programs with national and social value benefits in a way that serves the goals of all parties.”
Aliyah to Israel is not a trivial matter, and the immigration process is accompanied by challenges. Mekorot, together with the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Absorption, provides an all-embracing package concerning all aspects of daily life, including selecting candidates, arranging living conditions and wages, acquiring language skills and housing, local training and providing an absorption basket that includes guaranteed employment.
“The program assists a new immigrant who knows that he is guaranteed a complete path that removes barriers of uncertainty and allows a sense of security,” explains Orly Zuckerman, director of aliyah absorption programs at the Jewish Agency. “The connection is made through our emissaries around the world. Those who wish to immigrate to Israel receive an absorption package in all areas of life and a ‘soft landing,’ thanks to the receiving organizations and employers. In addition, they undergo training and adjustment to employment in Israel.”
 A group of new immigrants hired at Mekorot learn firsthand abou the company's activities (credit: ANCHO GOSH) A group of new immigrants hired at Mekorot learn firsthand abou the company’s activities (credit: ANCHO GOSH)

What is the importance of the project for the new immigrant and the country?

“It is special because the immigrant knows where he will go, where he will live, the company that will employ him, and his compensation. All companies are required to provide salary ranges and conditions, and the immigrant gets a clear picture of the process,” Zuckerman explains. “This partnership is important to us because Mekorot is a national company. We know how difficult it is for an immigrant in the country to market himself, and in this case, the company is already doing it for him. The networking is done for him beforehand. He has confidence, and he knows what is going to happen and the conditions. There is no difference between a new immigrant and a veteran, both in salary and conditions. It is done according to market conditions.”
“It is not easy to immigrate to Israel. These individuals are heads of households, many of whom have children,” adds Ben-Shushan. “This is a significant event for the family, but it is also an opportunity. In the interviews, we tried to address the barriers that come up – what awaits them, the absorption process, the promise of professional guidance, and of course the change of environment. In the first phone call, they asked about air raid sirens and Iron Dome. They experienced Operation Guardian of the Walls [in June] and this is also part of the absorption process that helps to get to know Israel, for better and for worse. New immigrants are coming, and we are stronger than ever. It is a challenge, but it shows that Zionism is not dead.”
As mentioned, four engineers and their families have already immigrated to Israel several months ago and live in an absorption center in Ra’anana. They will soon finish ulpan and join Mekorot as full-time employees. Anna Sobolski and her family had planned to immigrate to Israel for years.
“We wanted to make aliyah on our own, but the fear of the difficulties of absorption and finding a job in our professions prevented us from taking this step,” she explains. “We were delighted when we found details about this project on the Jewish Agency website. I sent in the documents with little hope, but to my delight, we passed the interview, and I was accepted. Later, we were concerned that everything would be canceled because of corona, but in the end, everything worked out. We are happy that we became integrated into work and life here and that we finally live in Israel.”

How are you adapting?

“We are adapting well. Like everyone else, we are learning Hebrew and are getting used to a new country. Fortunately, we are in an absorption center and receive quick responses to problems that arise. I feel very good in Israel, and I look forward to beginning work. It is very exciting.”

What did you study professionally?

“Until I immigrated to Israel, I did not know about Mekorot and what it does. I had the opportunity to visit the company, meet employees and learn about its activities in the field of water. In the past, I thought that Mekorot just supplied water to people living in Israel, and I learned many new things. This was the first time I learned about water desalination, with many developments and technologies for treating water and maintaining its quality. I am already looking forward to integrating into such a complex system.”
“Of course, there were concerns. It is not easy to leave home, work, and move with children to a new country, Ivan Shilo adds. “But the move to Israel allowed us to move forward, and the knowledge that we were part of the project with the Israeli water company gave us security. We have become acclimated. Everything is available to us, and it is very helpful. The operation in Gaza surprised us, and we were not used to it. But now, we feel part of the State of Israel. “

What are your impressions from a professional perspective?

“We toured Mekorot and we met company employees. They received us very warmly and we received explanations about the company’s activities. What impressed me was the company’s size and diversity, and its use of so many water sources for desalination, from drilling to water treatment of wastewater. On the one hand, we see a rational and economical company, and on the other hand, one that is very reliable. I think this project allows engineers to make a living as soon as they arrive in Israel, gain work experience in one of the most advanced companies in the world, learn new technologies and develop professionally.”
Four years ago, Oleg Podlipalin decided to leave the FSU with his family after failing to reach his professional potential as an electrical engineer. He dreamed of making aliyah to a kibbutz and then heard about the “Returning to the Sources” program.
“I realized that this was an opportunity to work in the profession immediately, instead of immigrating to Israel and doing all types of odd jobs,” Podlipalin says. “I didn’t know much about Mekorot, and I had professional uncertainty. I started searching the Internet, asking friends and relatives in Israel. I realized it was a strong government company and decided to give it a try. Absorption in Israel is going well. We have everything we need – housing, ulpan studies, accompaniment of representatives who provide a solution to all our daily issues. I cannot imagine how we would have succeeded if we had to do everything ourselves.”

How do you like Israel?

“I love Israel. It’s just very hot,” Podlipalin laughs. “I learned that Mekorot has many technological applications, and most of the processes are based on automation. Everything is based on remote control, and it’s fascinating.”
“It was clear to me that my future is in Israel,” adds Mark Israeli, a young and single engineer who has no relatives in Israel. “I knew it was not easy to be in a foreign country alone to start everything from scratch without support from family. But I saw it as a one-time opportunity and decided I would succeed. Everything is new to me, and everything is interesting. It’s a new culture, with new people. I am trying to learn the language as quickly as possible; I am trying to speak as much Hebrew as I can, and I am progressing very nicely. I enjoy the warmth of Israelis, and I am anxious to start working. There are technologies here that I have read about only in textbooks, I was amazed by the breadth of the company’s activities and I feel I have an opportunity to expand my engineering knowledge.”

What is your message for engineers overseas who are undecided?

“Moving to Israel was very difficult and was accompanied by many fears,” summarizes Israeli. “But it gives you a new opportunity in life and a project for the future – especially when you receive support from a company as serious as Mekorot.”
Translated by Alan Rosenbaum. This article was written in cooperation with Mekorot.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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