By Arielle Branitsky and Daniel Larson
Just as no one opinion is authoritative, no two work experiences can possibly reflect the totality of conditions in a professional field. That said, as Jewish professionals who have experience with both the Canadian and American Jewish communal landscapes, we feel that in light of the recent Employee Engagement Survey released by Leading Edge, the time is right for an examination of the obstacles impacting talent retention and elevation in our communal organizations. The Leading Edge findings indicate that the four areas for major improvement in the sector are managing performance, having adequate human resources, providing opportunities for career advancement, and employee retention. This study surveyed those already employed, however it is a logical extension to apply these findings to those seeking a new role within the sector as Jewish professionals.
The majority of available positions in the sector are being designated as entry- or senior-level, leaving very few options for those who are seeking mid-level entry points. Under these circumstances, it would appear that qualified talent and training is considered a risk more than a valued resource. Since 54% of respondents were aged 20-39 years old, it is a safe assumption that many in this demographic would likely be seeking mid-level positions, if not already holding one. Therefore, it is our prediction that if asked, many qualified job seekers – those with training and experience specific to this field – would identify themselves as fitting the “frustrated” profile, defined in the survey findings as employees who are highly engaged, but not enabled. Those in this category are considered to be the easiest to move towards the “effective” profile, which describes employees who are highly engaged and highly enabled. This means that there is a huge opportunity for on-boarding more effective employees if our institutions were to prioritize this process.
Placing value on highly trained professionals is a clear way to improve on the areas identified as needing improvement. Qualified candidates with field-specific background can transition into new positions quickly and are often equipped with a knowledge of the organization in a broader communal context. The creation of more mid-level positions is a viable step to increasing the number of effective employees in Jewish organizations that are retained over time. It addresses staffing issues and fosters an effective leadership pipeline for the organization – providing adequate challenges to professionals in these roles, while giving entry-level professionals room for longer-term career positioning and professional development aspirations.
A major roadblock to creating and maintaining these positions is funding. Indeed, salaries and funding for professional development should not be seen as overhead, rather they are investments in the long-term success of the organization. As lay and professional leaders we need to move away from a scarcity mindset and towards the reality that unless we are willing to take risks and invest in new ideas and new people, we will be limited to business as usual for the foreseeable future. We believe in the power and energy of the Jewish Nonprofit community and want to see it grow. This is especially important in communities outside of the major hubs, for whom resources are all the more limited. We encourage smaller communities to show that they have a horse in the proverbial race as well, and encourage broader participation in International and North American programs and initiatives surrounding our talent acquisition and retention culture.
Using the research already conducted, we must now put effort into answering the “why” questions that stem from it. This reflection offers a perspective on one possible “why,” but it also raises questions for the field to consider: How does the field define mid-level? How does the leadership pipeline reflect expectations of employers and candidates? How do we as a community address discrepancies in expectations? Does this field need more standardized definitions in order to create a common language? As professionals whom are still early on in our career paths, we hope to see implemented organizational change such that more talent may be retained and our organizations excel well into the future.
Arielle is the incoming Hillel Director and Outreach Consultant at the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. She has a Joint Masters in Religious Education and Jewish Nonprofit Management from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a Masters Concentration in Israel Education through the iCenter. Most recently, Arielle was the Director of Hillel Atlantic Canada, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Daniel is a second-year FEREP graduate student in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, where he is pursuing an MA in Jewish Professional Leadership and an MBA in Nonprofit Management at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Prior to returning to academia, he served as the Campaign Coordinator and Director of Communications at The Jewish Federation of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada.