July 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Project Ezrah and Ma’ayanot Partner for Tech-Focused ‘Reverse Mentoring’ Initiative

Anyone who has let a skill set fall out of use, whether it is a language, a sport or another skill, knows that not everything comes back as quickly as the proverbial riding a bike. This fact is especially true in the dynamic and ever-changing world of technology. If it seems that every day something new and different is announced, that’s probably not too far from the truth. Now imagine being out of work for a significant amount of time. Maybe a parent needed help, or a mother left work while her kids were young, and while technology sped by around them, they did not stay on top of trends and programs. Sure, many people have smartphones and rely on them, and more and more people have jumped on the Google-suite bandwagon, but using them personally and navigating them professionally can be worlds apart. Upon attempting to re-enter the workforce after an extended absence, many women find themselves lacking not just words on their resume, but skills that have become commonplace, and the absence of those skills puts them at a deficit despite their other experiences.

Rachel Book of Bergenfield is a diversity recruiting leader at a large financial services company, and has seen this happen firsthand as skilled professionals look to restart a career after a long absence only to find that they are outpaced by new and unfamiliar terminology and technology. She knew she had to find a way to train these women and approached Project Ezrah’s Director of Employment Jeff Mendelson, who confirmed that what she has seen is in fact a problem across the board. Together they came up with a program to help everyone. “For women out of work, or even for some in the workforce, technology can be intimidating,” explained Book. “While not ‘old’ the age cutoff for women having learned to comfortably integrate technology as a part of their life and job can be a difference of a year or two.” When they approached Ma’ayanot with the idea, it was embraced and taken on with enthusiasm.

Ma’ayanot and Project Ezrah will be collaborating for three Wednesdays in March in a reverse mentorship program referred to as the “Genius Bar.” Reverse mentoring, for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to more junior individuals sharing their knowledge and skills with a more senior person. These programs have become increasingly popular in corporations where entry-level and junior personnel spend time with executives and those at the “C-suite” level. The benefits are mutual. Executives gain an understanding of how younger staff members think, and find the “method to their madness,” while younger staff benefit from the wisdom and experience the senior-level employees bring to the job.

Book and Mendelson foresee the same mutual benefits for their Genius Bar. These free sessions will be held during Ma’ayanot’s club period, Wednesdays from 11:40 a.m. to 12:20 p.m., and when women sign up they can indicate what area they would like to focus on learning, whether it’s Google Drive, social media platforms, photo and video editing or other options. Ma’ayanot’s Director of Educational Technology, Orly Nadler, is excited to be a part of this program. “We’re very excited about this partnership with Project Ezrah and about giving our students the opportunity to help women in the community with technology,” she said. “What’s most empowering about this ‘reverse mentorship’ is that students realize how knowledgeable and resourceful they are. The tables have turned, where students are teaching adults and that is revolutionary. It’s a paradigm shift in the way of doing chesed. In the process, it will empower students to be even more independent and resourceful in contributing to society.”

Even if a woman is not planning an imminent return to work, but can foresee doing so in the not-too-far-off future, she can sign up to learn skills as a way to prepare for the eventuality. “There’s so much you can do now to prepare yourself for two years from now,” exclaimed Book enthusiastically. She explained further that while women see themselves bereft of current expertise due to their time off from work, they have actually been nurturing a vast skill set through volunteer organizations, PTA, school boards and community organizations. The skills needed to be successful in these groups—organizational ability, team playing, leadership and flexibility—are also talents necessary for any job. “This is about women empowering each other with their talents,” Book said.

As a further extension of this initiative, Book plans to bring Carol Fishman Cohen, a “career re-entry expert” to Teaneck on March 21. She consults on the intricate dynamics of returning to work after extended time off, and her TED Talk video has almost 1.5 million views. Clearly it is not just a local community issue, but one that transcends the North Jersey area, and Fishman Cohen has found ways to help ease this process.

Excitement is building as the start date approaches, and Mendelson echoed Nadler’s excitement about the promise of the program. “Project Ezrah is so glad to be collaborating with Ma’ayanot High School to offer the women in our community this unique opportunity. What a perfect match for Ma’ayanot girls to guide women looking to re-enter the workplace or just brush up on their skills in this area of technology. This experience will offer both the students and the women involved a chance to learn from each other, be part of chesed for our community and build confidence for their futures. We are very grateful to Ma’ayanot for this joint effort and to Rachel Book who, as a volunteer, spearheaded this program. In the end, the community is the beneficiary and that is what this is all about.”

By Jenny Gans

 

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