Handy Work: New Vocational Training Comes To Lakewood

By Shloimy Blau. It is no secret that the U.S. economy has been reeling in recent years. Nor is it a secret that our nation’s economic woes have hit frum communities very hard. Meeting the family budget is all that much harder.

No doubt, a major component of the response to such a challenge is creativity. New careers and business concepts must be unearthed. That has indeed been the secret to the successes that many have had in responding to the lack of traditional parnassah avenues, which ultimately turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

For some, this creativity turned out to be rather simple. No brainstorm in the world of hi-tech or online commerce, but rather a return to the basics that have been largely abandoned.

From Networking to Vocational Training

Reb Duvi Honig is one Lakewood resident who has spent the past couple of years working to fill gaps in the community’s parnassah scene. After experiencing our era’s twists and turns in his own business ventures, Rabbi Honig realized that there must be a concerted communal effort to help yungerleit looking to enter the business world or those already in the business world vehicles for financial advancement. “’Go find parnassah on your own’ is old style language,” he says.

In 2010, Reb Duvi opened the doors to a revolutionary “Learn and Network” Kollel, where local men can learn during afternoon seder each day and network with other breadwinners. The Kollel eventually gained affiliations with many employment, social services and vocational organizations and headhunting corporations from the Lakewood area and beyond. The Kollel also built a rapport with various successful professionals and businesspeople who deliver lectures to Kollel members on the ins and outs of practically every business sector, and are available to the members for private consultation.

Since the Kollel’s inception, it has seen a growing stream of locals of all ages and stages in life walk through its doors, and has instituted various steady shiurim, in addition to a special Sunday learning program. Rabbi Honig says that countless jobs have been landed and businesses launched and grown through Kollel members’ interactions, and similar Learn and Network Kollelim have been launched in various communities in New York, Yerushalayim and beyond.

In what was perhaps the Kollel’s climax thus far, it hosted a first-of-its-kind Parnassah Expo in Lakewood late February, which attracted thousands of men and women from Lakewood and other communities throughout the United States. The Expo featured access to training programs, business tools and businesses looking to hire, which Rabbi Honig spent months preparing.

It was during the preparation for the Expo when Rabbi Honig took stock of the diverse group of connections and resources that the Kollel has amassed since its inception and was struck by one glaring omission. “I saw so many resources for those looking to become businessmen and white collar professionals,” he said, “but was amazed to see practically nothing for the hands-on guy.”

Finding the Gap

The gaping void in the hands on field is one that has been increasingly focused upon in general society as well. In our era of technology supplanting humans in corporate functions, a wealth of outsourcing professional duties to low-cost employees in foreign nations, and reduced fortunes –and demand for employees- in major professional corporations, white collar professionals took a disproportionate hit. Layoffs of veterans were rampant and newcomers faced a tight job market, high expectations and low salaries.

And so, the focus began moving from accounting, computer programming, lawyers, mortgages and similar vocations to others that were widely neglected –and therefore less flooded. Plumbing, electric, auto repair, HVAC (heating, air conditioning and refrigeration), and other manual mechanical professions promise respectable potential earnings and inevitable constant demand that can never be outsourced to China and India.

Rabbi Honig noticed the same thing on a local level. A major electrical contractor in the region had ordered a booth at the Parnassah Expo and was looking to hire, and many others would certainly be interested in hiring talent from the Lakewood community. Countless Lakewood residents own, develop and manage real estate locally and throughout the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania region, and would appreciate using local, reliable community based talent for all their mechanical needs as well.

Yet, the supply of frum locals who were in that trade was weak and the availability of vehicles for them to learn and grow in these trades was dearth. “I would always meet people in the Kollel who were great at working with their hands, but were unable to secure any long term occupations with their talents and that bothered me tremendously,” Rabbi Honig Recounts. He adds that his experience has taught him that such professions are very rewarding: In previous years, he helped run an out-of-town mosad for bachurim who did not learn on a full day Yeshiva schedule and learned various hands-on trades, which kept them fulfilled in a constructive way and served as a long term livelihood for their families.

Setting Up the Solution

Never one to shrug his shoulders and take “No” for an answer, Reb Duvi set about making this avenue available for local breadwinners to travel. Using no companions or “protektzia,” Learn and Network’s founder knocked on the doors of the executive offices at Ocean County College’s Vocational Technical School (OCCVTS), the predominant vocational training center in the region, which offers over 40 types of courses at six regional locations. After being directed to a top school executive, Reb Duvi explained his community efforts and the opening for mechanical training courses for the Lakewood community. “The executive was laughing when I related this idea,” he recounts. “This was the first time he had ever heard anyone suggest it.”

After several months of efforts and approval by the Ocean County Freeholders and other OCCVTS decision makers, the idea of a Lakewood mechanical trades training program was no joke. The school agreed to open special classes through Learn and Network, which is open to all community members, regardless of whether they learn in the Kollel, and accommodates the community’s sensitivities.

The classes will be limited to ten students and will be held at the various state-of-the-art OCCVTS facilities where the school’s regular classes are held and they’ll be taught by the school’s regular faculty members. In keeping with the community’s needs, they will be held during bein hasedorim hours, from 2:30 to 5:00 pm, and transportation from Lakewood will be provided.  

Thus far, the courses offered are automobile mechanics, electric, plumbing, HVAC and welding. A course in beginner construction is in the works. Rabbi Honig stresses that the classes are unusually affordable, require no prior education or degree, and are relatively short, with only 12 classes per course. Once a student completes the course, they’ll have solid background in their chosen field and stand a good chance of extending their experience in an established firm and potentially can become self-employed and earn a very respectable living.

Opening Minds

Registration for the new courses is still open and Rabbi Honig is working on getting sponsorships too, so that yungerleit would be able to join at a reduced cost. Rabbi Honig says that the courses, the first-of-their-kind for the Lakewood community, have engendered lots of inquiry and interest.

One yungerman who has signed up for the plumbing course said that he has always known that he his talented with his hands and had an interest in doing such type of work, but never actually got down to sign up for training because he wanted to be in an environment geared to the frum community. He says that he is now ”excited” at the prospect of completing the course, and is optimistic that the career choice is promising regardless of economic conditions. “Just like everyone will always need a grocer, they’ll always need a plumber and air condition repairman,” he says.

One major impediment to hands-on blue-collar work has been the stigma it carries amongst some in the community, where it looked at as less honorable than other, white collar professions. Rabbi Honig says that he believes that the economic realities and the realization of the promise that such positions hold has changed a lot of that attitude, as has the newfound availability of getting trained in a respectable frum environment. “I see bnei Torah with long beards expressing interest in these courses,” he says. “Five years ago, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

Another yungerman, who has signed up for the upcoming HVAC course expresses pride in his choice. He speaks of the inborn talent he has in this area and the fact that he has found that all competent professionals that he knows in the field earn very respectable livings. “I don’t think that anyone looks down anymore at a frum repairman who walks into his home,” he says. “The ‘derech haTorah’ is for someone to earn an honest living for his family if he has to.”



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  1. B’Rosh Hashanah Y’Kosaiyvo.Do your Hishtadlus, Hashem will do his. What is written down on Rosh Hashanah will be yours for success, Hatzlocha, and Nachas. Daven Good.

  2. One problem of having special courses is that they flood the field. Look at special Ed and the the therapy’s. TTI and other frum places offer courses in a limited number of fields and produce minimum 30 more graduates a year looking for such a job in a confined community in which the demand is not growing that fast. Most of the individuals that will take these specialy arrainged courses will want to work local in our community and how many electricians are needed for our community?

    People need to stop being embarrassed to follow their hearts and do what THEY want. They need to do research and see all the different options that are out there and then follow their hearts and not the expectations of the rest of “the community.” I did that an I am now in school for not a typical thing, and yes, people still talk to me and are actually interested in hearing about it.

  3. This is a great idea. What R’ Duvy & his office staff, especially Mrs Wahl, have done, in regards to knocking on doors & bringing fresh ideas to the fore, is nothing short of remarkable. Dudi B

  4. It would be remiss not to mention, R’ Duvy does have a lot of help from a group of dedicated askanim. People like R’ Abe Penzer, R’ Moti Tress, TLS, Shloimy “Shimmy” Blau have contributed greatly to the overall Matziv with ideas & finacial/emotional support. Tizku L’mitzvos. Dudi B.

  5. We should have more heimisha barbers, we also need more rodent control specialist, my wife was on the table with the baby and crying when she called my cell that she saw a mice, and I was at a loss of whom to call, a heimish paint artists I had a hard time locating or even a good car mechanic, anyways I wish parnassa a lot of brachas

  6. At come point self-employed skilled laborers such as this need to be taught to compete for contracts outside of the community in order to be successful. Everyone competes for business within the community and there just isn’t enough to go around. Think about it – if no money comes into the community from outside, yet a hefty percentage gets spent outside (last checked, there are no frum car manufacturers, airlines, etc.), the community economy cannot function, let alone thrive. Those that position themselves to compete in the wider marketplace as well have a greater chance at being successful.

  7. Sure the last time that I was thinking of opening a new frum airline, actually calling it ” FRUM AIRLINE” not a bad name , I was looking in my night table to locate a few hundred million in change to open an airline

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