Work Above the Bull: Building Blocks

by Brenda Gevertz

When Barry Shrage, CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, interviewed for a position at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland as a younger career professional, he was asked his career aspirations. As Barry retold the story to the J PRO group in Boston, he replied that he wanted to be a Federation Executive one day. That was the right answer, because the Cleveland Federation wanted to invest in young professionals who had the highest career goals.

Young talent was rotated through departments to gain a variety of experiences and knowledge with the thought in mind that Cleveland would be a training ground for the broader Jewish community. Cleveland was also one of the first communities to host a local professionals’ group and talent flocked to Cleveland for precisely these opportunities.

Who should be responsible for developing our future leaders?

Too often today we are hearing that younger career professionals are being blocked from attending conferences and workshops that would help them advance in their jobs and careers. Too often we are told that there “just isn’t the time” or “we don’t have the resources” to send staff to a conference. What is the cost – individually, institutionally and communally – when we cut off professional development opportunities? What is the commitment to help our professionals build their skills and networks into careers that advance the community’s agenda as well as reward the individual with purpose and meaning? This is more than a rhetorical question, it is a real challenge. Agencies have to make difficult budget decisions and many of us have staff stretched thin by too few employees to meet growing demands. But isn’t that all the more reason to invest in the precious human resources we do have?

I recently had the pleasure of informing a CEO that his nominee had won a coveted award. The award would take the winner away from the agency at a ridiculously busy time and also carried an expense to the agency, but it provided an exceptional educational opportunity for the winner. The exec told me that he hesitated for a moment before nominating the individual, but in the end he said, “I knew if he won, it would be a transformative experience.”

And this is precisely what our profession needs: an investment in promising talent. It may come at an immediate cost, but consider the dividends to follow. We must build a community for the future on a strong foundation. We all share this responsibility.

Brenda Gevertz is Executive Director, Jewish Communal Service Association of North America.