The first female Palestinian aluminium technicians break barriers with ILO support

The ILO has supported the successful completion of an aluminium sector work-based apprenticeship programme in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, culminating in the employment of the first Palestinian women as aluminium technicians. This marks a significant milestone in the quest for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the region.

Press release | 21 September 2023
The first Palestinian women to work in the aluminium sector as professional technicians have been employed by the National Aluminium & Profile Company (NAPCO). Khawla Al-Hourani, Namarak Abu Saada, Samar Milayat, and Hiyam Abdulkader Al-qaimri completed an apprenticeship programme implemented by NAPCO in partnership with Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the Ministry of Labour, and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Around the world, apprenticeships provide a robust route to learning, training and job placement. They combine workplace-based learning in jobs identified by employers with theoretical and practical training, a stipend for the duration of the apprenticeship, and a contract between the employer, training provider, apprentice, and government that ensures that skills and knowledge are standardized, recognized and certified. It is this combination unique to apprenticeships that makes them such a strong route to positive returns for apprentices, employers and governments. By providing pathways to decent work, apprenticeships can help bridge the gap between labour supply and demand in the Palestinian labour market.

Bridging this gap has never been more important. High levels of unemployment (24 per cent overall) persist across the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with stark gender disparities. While the unemployment rate among men is 20.3 per cent, the corresponding rate for women is 40.4 per cent. The 2022 Palestinian labour force survey also reveals that women’s labour force participation rate (18.6 per cent) is far lower than the rate for men (70.7 per cent). Women who work outside the home tend to be concentrated in economic sectors that align with socially acceptable gender roles, like teaching and caregiving, with few reaching leadership positions. Women are virtually absent in sectors traditionally considered ‘male’ – like construction and aluminium manufacturing – and when they are present, they are largely confined to entry level, low-skilled positions. Opportunities for training in non-traditional sectors are not easily available for Palestinian women, and information on opportunities is sorely lacking.

Recognizing the urgent need for innovative approaches to address the employment crisis, the ILO conducted a study to identify which jobs in new sectors women can be supported to access. The "Study on the construction and building sector as a male-dominated and non-traditional sector for women" provides critical insights on potential economic opportunities for women in three sub-sectors: aluminum fabrication, electric installation techniques, and home maintenance. Speaking at the signing of the apprenticeship agreement, Shaher Saed, Chairperson of PGFTU, said, “The aluminium manufacturing sector is facing acute skills shortages, partly because of skills drain to the Israeli labour market. Palestinian women already engage in maintenance and construction-related tasks at home, but we need to break down barriers to help them actively participate in the sector.”

Based on the study’s findings, the ILO engaged with employers to identify jobs where they face skills shortages. Working with PGFTU and the Ministry of Labour, the ILO designed an apprenticeship programme to introduce women to the unconventional sectors identified. The programme began with the aluminium sector, where NAPCO was the industry partner providing 425 hours of workplace-based training under the supervision of their technicians, and the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) in Nablus provided the programme’s 60-hour theoretical classroom component.
The women apprentices and NAPCO employers signed contracts that included financial support in the form of 1,000 new Israeli shekels as an apprenticeship stipend for programme participants.

“I was resistant at first, because of gender stereotypes,” explains a NAPCO trainer. “But consistent outreach, information-sharing, the will and hard work of the trainees soon turned this initial resistance into enthusiastic support. We saw how the women's development and adaptation exceeded expectations, instilling confidence in their future at the company.” Outreach was also essential to overcome a lack of support from women's families and communities.

“We faced many obstacles at the beginning including transportation shortages, attending to our families, and resistance from our communities. However, with the help and support of the PGFTU, ILO and NAPCO, we were able to overcome these hurdles,” reflects Hiyam Abdulkader Al-qaimri, one of the programme’s participants. “We were also paid a stipend during our training which made a huge difference in allowing us to continue our training.”

NAPCO’s General Manager, Anan Anabtawi, emphasized the importance of the programme. “Our intention in implementing this apprenticeship programme at our company is not to impress anyone, but rather to serve as a parallel to the Palestinian population – which is a generally young population, 50% of which is made up of women,” he notes. “Our intention and objectives are to increase women co-workers in the company while ensuring equal treatment, rights and responsibilities. We are simply doing what needs to be done.” He reemphasized this statement, stating, “We are more interested in turning the participants into skilled employees not just trainees, yet they must be up for the challenge.”

Frida Khan, ILO Representative in Jerusalem, welcomed the success of the programme, noting that “The learning from this project will help the ILO work with stakeholders to design a national apprenticeship programme. This will provide women and men across the Occupied Palestinian Territory with opportunities to earn and learn, and secure decent employment in jobs where employers face skills shortages."

This pilot apprenticeship programme was implemented under the joint regional programme, “Promoting Productive Employment and Decent Work for Women in Egypt, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, implemented by the ILO and UN Women with the financial support of the Government of Sweden.