Stephen Oryszczuk goes behind the scenes to discover the people and places that make our vibrant community tick. This week, he is at TrainE-TraidE…
In an unassuming Finchley office block, TrainE-TraidE boss Shraga Zaltzman [number 10 in our Forty Under 40 countdown!] shows me the architect’s etchings of the company’s future offices. The work will turn an old shul into a mecca of shiny glass and shinier suits.
It’ll be a business hub, he says, where successful and aspiring business people mingle, munch and mix. “We’ve been thinking of new names for it,” he says. “I like ‘Joogle’ but someone said we could get sued.”
Be it Joogle, Jewsbook or Jewmazon, we all agree it will be better than TrainE-TraidE, a name which no doubt once made sense, but whose misplaced capitals are a phonetic nightmare. Not that I’d know anything about confusing names.
Thankfully, that’s the only confusing thing here. There are two elements to this not-for-profit: finding people work and helping people to set up businesses, the latter of which can include start-up loans.
The office, bathed in artificial light down in the basement, is therefore like a soil-bed full of seeds. On the first floor of the same building sit two companies led by some of Shraga’s ex-seedlings. Now successful employers, they still call on their old mentor for advice.
It’s not just Shraga advising. Debbie the ‘Dream Crusher’ has been here since it started seven years ago. The nickname comes from having to tell people when their business ideas are likely to fall flat, which is often. Get past her and you’ve cracked it.
On the employment side, there’s Emma. Then there’s Yael 1 (‘Sol’), a cute ball of energy working with firms to match people to jobs.
In reception is Yael 2 (‘Schlags’), who has the best teeth you’ve ever seen. That she trained as a dental nurse for a year is coincidence, she says. “These are natural.” Sure.
It’s mid-morning.Two workshops are on the go. In one, Emma is telling people how to tart up their CVs (probably not how she’d describe it, but let’s cut to the chase here). Her class – a mix of frum and not, young and old – includes every kind of background, with salesmen, relationship counsellors, football coaches, volunteer managers, even a blogger, who “once had something in The Guardian” (be careful what you put on your CV).
A question comes in from the floor. “Can you ever blow your own trumpet too much?” It’s a good point. “We may be Jews, but we’re British Jews,” says Emma. “Brits are understated. We don’t boast, we’re not arrogant and we’re not comfortable shouting about ourselves, but you need to be very clear about your skills and achievements. It may sound weird in your head, but it looks fine on a CV.” After a naughty pause, she says: “Imagine you’re American or Israeli when you’re writing.”
In the next room, Lisa is teaching IT skills to a group of (mainly Orthodox) women who are returning to, or are completely new to, the workplace. It’s a four-week course, and they’re halfway through their first.
I sneak in. “Hello, I’m Mrs Gitelman, IT Trainer Extraordinaire,” she says, to cheers and applause from her dozen or so pupils. “You’re loved,” I say. “I know. And it’s only Day 3. I’ve not had time to bribe them yet.”
After the brief journalistic intrusion, it’s back to work, with puzzling talk of “dragging mice” and “bottom borders”. A hand shoots up. “I did something very stupid. I made ‘Enter’. Can I unmake it?” In the break, I speak to some learners. After 29 years, Miri is preparing to work again, as an administrator for her husband. “There were no computers when I was young,” she says over sandwiches. “We’ve been learning about ‘files’ and ‘folders’.
They’re not the files and folders I know.” Likewise, Shoshana is starting completely from scratch. “For two days I almost cried,” she says. “I wanted to walk out. But I stayed, and I’m still here. Now it’s getting easier.”
Their bravery is an inspiration. It must be alien and scary as hell. I have nothing but admiration for everyone who walks through these doors.
Likewise the 40-year-old man who sits down for a one-to-one with Emma in the afternoon, his smiling mouth and anxious eyes in obvious conflict. He worked in telecoms for 10 years, but has since been taking whatever jobs he could, including dressing up as a chicken to sell credit cards. It must be soul- destroying, but he’s trying: he’s brought CVs, applications, letters, past accolades…
He’s desperate but retains composure as Emma gives him advice no doubt different again from what he’s been given by a dozen others. They thrash out a plan of action and he looks buoyed. “One guy came in every day in a suit and tie, immaculate,” recalls Shraga. “Finally I asked why. He said his wife didn’t know he’d lost his job. He couldn’t tell her. So he was going out of the house in the morning as normal, coming back at the same time and coming to us in between. “We found him a job in three weeks. I don’t know if she ever found out. We’re easily forgotten. People don’t like to remember this time in their lives. I understand.”
It’s OK, Shraga. I think we all do.