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How does Israel's national water company decide who to hire?

 THERE IS value in what we do’: Hagai Philipson, VP of human resources, Mekorot (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
THERE IS value in what we do’: Hagai Philipson, VP of human resources, Mekorot
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

Hagai Philipson discusses personnel recruitment, the new collective agreement, technological innovations, and the Mekorot employees’ sense of mission.

One of the significant advantages of Mekorot – Israel’s national water company – is the positive feeling that people get from working there, which goes even beyond its professionalism and innovation, points out Hagai Philipson, vice-president of Human Resources at Mekorot.

“I always say that this is where I first encountered Zionism,” he says.

“The workers here have fire in their eyes. Even if they have to repair a sewage pipe from Tiberias in the Jordan Valley when it is 48 C they do their jobs with a smile, because they know that it is a mission.”

MEKOROT’S ESHKOL water filtration plant. (Credit: Hetz Tzafon)
MEKOROT’S ESHKOL water filtration plant. (Credit: Hetz Tzafon)

One of the most experienced companies in Israel, Mekorot is nevertheless at the forefront of technology in infrastructure, monitoring, data, and many other areas. It presents an interesting challenge for young engineers, particularly those seeking experience and an international-level platform for personal and professional development. 


Beyond its tremendously significant, “traditional role,” with responsibility for the transportation and provision of water throughout the country, Mekorot also deals with other important issues, points out Philipson. 

With technological know-how that is advanced relative to other companies worldwide in the field, including those in advanced Western countries, Mekorot has agreements with many countries that, during the current worldwide drought, are being helped by the vast experience and technical knowledge the company has accumulated over the years.

“The company is involved in research and development, in collaborations with leading start-ups, in the planning of desalination plants, in improving water quality, and in maintaining the security of water systems,” Philipson says.

Challenges and tasks

Before Philipson joined Mekorot six months ago, he spent four years as vice president of HR at Hadassah Medical Center, where he was exposed to both medical challenges and to the workforce shortage in the technology and engineering worlds. 


With 25 years of IDF as an administrative officer in the Ground Forces, Philipson has extensive management experience. In the past, he was also deputy director general of human resources at the Transport Ministry and is extremely familiar with public sector challenges. 

The first of Mekorot’s two main challenges, he says, “has to do with the company’s structure, the existing collective agreements, and the fact that we are competing with our counterparts in the private sector in infrastructure and engineering.”

The world of water engineering is quite limited, he explains, “but even here, there is a shortage of students in the field, just as there is a shortage of medical students. Yet, here too, there is a great demand, while the number of students is decreasing.”

The second challenge is in management.

“We want good managers, and we want to retain quality employees. In order to meet these two challenges, we are doing several things simultaneously.”

One of these things is “broad cooperation with academic institutions in Israel, both in terms of joint activities and lectures,” which also provides the company with exposure to the employment and marketing market. 

Mekorot is active in employee retention, taking steps such as providing grants or global exposure to junior-level engineers. The company sends employees to work on projects abroad, which expands their professional skill set and connects them to the organization’s processes. 

Philipson says: “When you connect employees more closely to the company’s core functions, they see the next challenge.” 

International activity

Active in many regions and countries, such as Argentina, India, Morocco, Bahrain, Chile, and the Dominican Republic, Mekorot also offers consulting services to various companies in France and Italy. 

“When our employees travel for work to these countries, we take care of all of their needs, so that they have peace of mind while they are working on the project,” Phillipson says.

He adds that Mekorot “will seek to make changes that will benefit its employees” in advance of negotiations of the collective bargaining agreement. 

With all the knowledge and experience that the company has accumulated over the years, Mekorot has also become “a type of engineering school,” he explains. 

“We train the employees, give them tools, encourage and fund their professional studies, training, and advanced academic studies. We provide them with grants, and encourage research and development.”

With Mekorot connected to the world of academia, research, and hi-tech, it is able to create a platform for employees to offer options for promotions on a personal and professional level. 

“Mekorot is always encouraging innovation,” Philipson says.

“Many engineering advances have come about due to the initiative and planning of our field personnel.”The company is “unique” he insists because, on the one hand, “we have a traditional view of maintenance. We still deal with pipes, some of which are decades old.” And on the other hand, “we have advanced developments such as the identification of water quality using drones and sophisticated control systems, most of which are the result of local development and initiatives.”

Beyond that, many activities are carried out within the organization to “encourage excellence,” such as distributing “bonuses for excellence” and evaluating project managers by their quality and ability to meet their goals. This year, for the first time, Mekorot distributed excellence bonuses to 150 employees and another 100 recruitment and retention bonuses. 

As part of the negotiations on the new collective agreement, Mekorot will also deal with workers’ wages, which are low relative to the economy. “We are working to correct this,” Philipson says.

Zionism throughout the generations

Philipson emphasizes the importance of Zionism in Mekorot. 

“We understand that this value needs to be preserved,” he explains. “People are seeking meaning and value in their work. Money is important, of course, but it’s not everything. We deal with water, which is a basic existential need. We recently sent a company delegation to Poland, again, for the same Zionist connection. In the end, we are in this country for a reason. There is a message here – it has a different meaning beyond additional work or laying infrastructure. There is value in what we do.” 

There is no question that the global employment market has undergone upheavals in recent years, from almost complete automation of many processes made possible by technological developments to hybrid work, a result of the daily work-from-home routine developed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Another change is the mobility of the younger generation, which does not tend to remain in the same workplace over a long period of time.

“We’re dealing with generational gaps,” Philipson explains. “I think it’s good that people move about in the employment world.” 

He promotes transitions between roles, at the company, both in management and professional positions. “It is important, both for the employees and also for the organization, to have diversity for personal and professional development.”

Discussing additional measures to connect employees to the company, including the renewal of ties with the families of former employees, whose connections have weakened over the years, he says: “Everything we do influences the employees’ desire to remain here and understand the significance of what they do. Mekorot provides a life-sustaining product, which is something that connects employees to the company and to each other.”While in the past, the company’s organizational view was broader, “We are now connecting at a regional and national level,” he says.

One of its biggest challenges, according to Philipson “is to make an agreement that will not only not harm our workers, but will benefit them.” 

The agreement must “take care of their needs, and not just Zionist values,” he insists. “We’re also enabling hybrid work whenever possible.”

With the economy returning to where it was pre-COVID, the company needs to strike the proper balance, he says. Looking ahead to the coming years, Philipson concludes that Mekorot needs to look “beyond water transportation and supply.”

“Mekorot should be a company that influences technologies, not just one that receives technologies. We need to be innovative in the world of management, just as we know how to be innovative in the world of water.”

One goal is to “integrate technology into everyday life, and be “equally advanced in managing tenders.” 

Another goal is to be “paperless” by the end of 2025. Philipson hopes that Mekorot will be able to introduce additional automation and mechanized systems in the future.

“We’re on our way. These processes take time, but they will happen.”

Translated by Alan Rosenbaum.

This article was written in cooperation with Mekorot.