Jerry Rubin is finally getting ready for retirement after 15 years of leading and growing Jewish Vocational Service into the largest workforce training organization in Boston.
Rubin, who turns 65 in February, has been calling friends and colleagues during the past week to inform them of his plans to step down in April. The JVS board has formed a search committee and is in the process of selecting a headhunting firm to find Rubin’s successor.
During his tenure as CEO, he essentially tripled the size of JVS by at least three measures: The organization now has a budget of $20 million, employs about 180 people, and helps at least 15,000 people every year, most of them adult immigrants.
“What a 15-year run,” said Neil Sullivan, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council and a friend of Rubin’s dating back to the 1980s, when they worked together in City Hall under Mayor Ray Flynn. “He has tripled the organization and its impact, and it was top-shelf as an organization when he inherited it.”
Rubin became CEO of JVS in early 2007, taking over for Barbara Rosenbaum, after serving as a vice president at Jobs for the Future. That nonprofit, a national workforce development group, is based in Boston, but Rubin spent his six years there mostly working on out-of-state projects.
“By the time I came to JVS, I learned a tremendous amount about what works and what doesn’t work in the workforce development field,” Rubin said.
He proceeded to put that expertise to work, expanding the size of JVS and its reputation. Rubin and other staffers became viewed as national experts, often receiving calls for advice and assistance from around the country. The accomplishments under his watch include helping to engineer the country’s first social impact bond to solely raise money for workforce training. JVS used the funds to help pay for training that significantly increased the earnings potential for program participants, who were not native English speakers, in a number of Massachusetts cities.
JVS was launched by a predecessor to Combined Jewish Philanthropies in 1938, in part to help displaced Jews coming to the United States from Austria and Germany. Over time, the mission expanded to help a broad range of immigrant groups, starting with the Vietnamese who arrived here, largely in the Fields Corner section of Dorchester, in the 1970s, Rubin said. The majority of the organization’s services still go to immigrants today. The organization is also responsible for running the state’s downtown Boston MassHire career center. JVS is funded by a mix of public money, philanthropy, and employer payments for training sessions. The classes are free to students.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed JVS to adopt a hybrid approach to teaching, with a mix of in-person and virtual learning, a change Rubin said was long overdue. He expects the hybrid approach will continue well into the future.
“We had a technology plan before COVID started,” Rubin said. “But it was moving slowly. Then, all of a sudden, it moved at lightning speed because we didn’t have a choice.”
Joe Zeff, chairman of the JVS board, hopes to have a successor in place before Rubin leaves next spring. He described Rubin as an empathic leader, with skillsets as a big thinker as well as an operator.
“JVS has seen incredible successes under his leadership,” Zeff said. “But one of the hallmarks of a great leader is that they set an organization up for success after they’re gone. I think Jerry has done that.”